Pay homage to the wild onion of myth and mystery in Hudson on Saturday

The scene at last year’s Ramp Fest in Hudson (photo by Richard A. Smith)

The scene at last year’s Ramp Fest in Hudson (photo by Richard A. Smith)

I’m looking forward to Hudson’s fourth annual Ramp Fest – a party paying homage to the wild onion, or ramp – on Saturday, May 3 at the Basilica Hudson. At the 19th-century industrial-factory-turned-event-space, 15 chefs will create 15 dishes celebrating this pungent, sweet harbinger of spring.

One of the first forageable wild foods of the year, this welcome allium pops up green when all has been gray-and-white for too long. From a popular and simple toss in bacon grease in the Appalachian Mountains, it has come a long way to some more creative preparations here in the Hudson Valley. But no matter how lowbrow or highborn, we all love it.

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Allium tricoccum inspires near-cultish devotion – so much so that foragers are urged to collect it in a sustainable way, so as to leave some for future harvests – and hundreds of devotees from down the street to all the way from New York City have been flocking to the Ramp Fest each year to cook or eat this well-loved delicacy.

Part of its appeal is the ephemeral nature of the flat-leaved, purple-stalked plants. They’re hard to find in the woods (at least in my experience) and appear for only a few weeks before they’re gone. But the main things are the taste – deeply earthy and sweet – and the versatility. In Appalachia, where they’ve been popular since forever, preparations are simple: At their long-established ramp fests they serve them simply pickled, fried, boiled or in soups, salads, potato and egg dishes.

Around here we get a bit more imaginative. Last year chef Jeff Gimmel of Swoon Kitchenbar in Hudson – who founded the fest – offered socca crêpes (made with chickpea flour like in Nice, France) with lamb’s tongue and grilled ramp romesco sauce. This year, look for the ramp blini with ramp-cured trout and ramp kimchi from chef Jamie Parry of Another Fork in Milan. “If we are feeling frisky,” he told me, “we may even revive ramp pop-tarts from a few years back.”

Swoon will be back with chef Ryan McLaughlin’s house-cured bacon, tomato confit, ramp mayo and sautéed ramps on a challah roll. From Ca’ Mea, also in Hudson, will be chef Timothy Storrs’ grilled ramp polenta with a goat-cheese-and-ramp pesto tapenade with Hudson Valley Foie Gras smoked duck. From Market St. in Rhinebeck, look for chef Gianni Scappin’s salmon tartare with ramp pesto and crostini. From Fresh Company in Garrison, chef Shelley Boris will offer bluefish with crème fraîche, beets, ramp and duck skin.

From further afield, you’ll find chef Christophe Jalbert of Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington, Massachusetts with a baby quiche with ramps, local eggs and Oma cheese from von Trapp Farmstead in Vermont. Manhattan will be represented by the Heath and Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotelwith chef R. L. King’s ramp-and-goat-cheese custard, Carolina rice and ramp/walnut pesto. Find Lucas Confectionery of Troy with chef Mike Rock’s fava-bean-and-ramp hummus with rhubarb/ramp confiture. Chefs Wilson Costa and Laura Pensiero of Gigi Hudson Valley will bring a savory tart with ramp pesto, pickled ramps and Parmigiano.

A new sponsor is the soon-to-open Whole Foods in Albany, and sustainability is still a theme, with chefs being asked to gather their ramps in an eco-friendly fashion: basically taking only part of a patch and collecting only some of the greens from each plant, leaving some behind, along with the bulbs, so that they can grow back. The chefs have also been asked to limit their container requirements and serve their samplings on reusable or recyclable materials.

I can’t wait to try the lovely ramp in some fun new ways, as when I can scavenge up a few I usually just cobble together the super-simple preparation below.

 

Robbinsville Fried Ramps and Potatoes

Adapted from Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread and Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking by Joseph E. Dabney (Cumberland House, 1998). This quick fry-up for breakfast, lunch or a snack is good hot or cold, so it is great for a picnic or packed lunch. Dabney recommends serving it with biscuits and fresh butter. Serves one.

1 heaping cup ramps, washed well and cut into one-inch pieces

1 medium-size potato, peeled and sliced about one-third inch

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

1 large egg, beaten lightly

In a small cast-iron pan over medium/low heat, fry ramps and potatoes in bacon drippings until potatoes are tender. Toss beaten egg over mixture and continue to cook another two minutes, until eggs are cooked on the bottom. Turn over and cook on the other side for several more minutes or until egg is set.

 

Pay homage to the wild onion of myth and mystery from 12 noon to four 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 3 at the Basilica Hudson at 110 Front Street in Hudson, across the street from the Amtrak station. The event will also include a cash bar and musical entertainment. Ticket sales are limited, and you can get them in advance for $30 via www.rampfesthudson.com, or at the door for $35. Admission costs $10 for kids under 12. For more information e-mail info@rampfesthudson.com.

Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s DineHudsonValley.com or HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.

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