Each spring, for the past 24 years, hundreds of people and thousands of wild leeks come together in Singhampton. They do so at the village’s Ramp Romp, a celebration of the coming of spring and to raise funds for worthy community causes.
The story of Singhampton’s Ramp Romp began in response to an incident in the village back in 1983, a group of concerned local residents created the Fire Prevention Committee.
At that time, fire and emergency response came from outside the village and most often came too late when called upon. Ramp Romp was created by the Committee as a fundraiser to establish a fire and emergency response for the community. Since its beginnings, funds raised at the event have provided fire extinguishers, a siren, and emergency response helping to realize the dream of better fire protection for the village. More recently, the proceeds from Ramp Romp have gone towards the operation of the Singhampton Community Centre.
Spring arrives in Singhampton a bit later that other parts, however, Ramp Romp takes place on the first Saturday in May. The many leek diggers keep their fingers crossed that by the time they enter the moist maple forests around the village for the ramp harvest that all the snow has melted and the warmth of spring has coaxed the tender green shoots from the ground. The leek diggers go back and forth into the forest many times to ensure there will be enough ramps for everyone at the dinner. Many afternoons and evenings are spent digging and cleaning thousands of leeks. In the week proceeding the dinner, a welcoming garlicky aroma starts to permeate Singhampton.
At the same time, community members are busy advertising the coming event and enlisting an army of locals to volunteer for other tasks needed on the day of Ramp Romp.
The Aromatic Event
The day of Ramp Romp arrives. Many have already been busy readying the village and Community Centre for the dinner.
A typical Ramp Romp feeds over 350 folk. To do this requires 160 lbs of roast pork, 59 kilos of scalloped potatoes, 1300 ounces of baked beans, 8 liters of applesauce, 5.25 cubic feet of dinner rolls, hundreds of pickles, 8 cases of spring greens, 60 homemade pies and 4 chaffing pans of apple crisp and a volume of mustard. Accompanying these are an estimated 21,618 steamed leeks and almost 3,000 fresh, raw ramps. This culinary collaboration requires oodles of volunteers and a healthy amount of cooperation amidst the distinctive aroma of ramps.
This year’s event will take place on Saturday May 9th. Dinner is served from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Then there will be a quick clean-up and re-organizing of the Centre for “The Romp”, the after party. Tickets for the dinner and Romp are only $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and students and the dinner is free for children under 6 years who come with an adult.
In springtime, ramps are easily identified as they are the first greens to emerge from the ground in hardwood forested areas sometime from late March to early May. The wild leeks that you are looking for should have 2 to 3 broad, smooth green leaves with an unmistakable garlic onion odor. The leaves should come directly from the ground and are not connected to any sort of stem or trunk. The stems just above the ground should start to turn a maroon color and connect to a white bulb with hair-like roots in the moist soil. During the summer and fall, ramps will not longer be able to be identified by their leaf structures. During this time of year the wild leeks will be in the flowering stage. To identify leeks look for a small maroon colored stalk connected to a typical onion family flower. Traditional wild onions will have a pink to purple flowers while wild leeks will have white flowers.
When harvesting good ramps there are a few key features you should look for in the plants. First off wild leeks should have two or three bright green leaves with the small white bulb attached by a maroon stem. The key is to find leeks that are as fresh as possible. Yellowing or withering in the leaves is a sign that these particular leeks have been in the ground too long. Ideally the leaves should be around 6 inches long and 2 inches wide, for the mildest flavor. You should be careful on the amount of leeks you intend on harvesting from one patch.
Small patches of leeks can be over-harvested leaving nothing for the upcoming season. Depending on what you plan on using the leeks for, you might just harvest the leaves leaving the bulb in the ground. Selective harvesting in this way is a good idea, as the remaining bulbs will sprout new leaves the following year.
In most cases when you harvest ramps they will be muddy and will need to be cleaned and trimmed. Taking the time to properly clean and identify each leek that you have picked is a wise choice. A papery wrapper leaf (and some dirt) may surround the bulb when you pull the plants from the soil. This coating should be removed when you get the leeks home and begin to clean them up. Additionally any roots that were pulled with the plant should be trimmed off along with their button attachment. Be careful to look for any yellowing or slimy textures to the plants you have picked. If you happen to come across any leeks with these signs simply discard the leek and move on to the next. Once trimmed and cleaned the entire plant is ready for eating.
Storing Ramps and Wild Leeks
After you have cleaned and trimmed the leeks you have picked, store them in the refrigerator, as you would green onions. Because of their small size it is a good idea to pack them into a plastic bag so that they do not dry out. If you happen to have one of those nifty home vacuum sealer devices then a good idea would be to package up a few leeks together and freeze them for later use. With the leek leaves it is a good idea to use them as soon as possible after harvest.
Ramps or wild leeks can be used in a wide variety of uses in the kitchen. Wild leek's flavor is very similar to onions, particularly like scallions, but with a wilder touch and more intense earthy favour. For cooking they can be used interchangeably in any recipe that calls for scallions or green onions. Slicing leeks thin gives an amazing flavor twist to salads or stir-frys, while the more daring love their earthy flavor raw.
All in all these delicacies pop right up from the ground just asking to be pulled while out hiking or on your way home from fishing. Pluck them from the ground this year and try them as part of a most rewarding meal.
Recipes using Wild Leeks
Ramp Lovers Hors D'oeuvres
Potato and Ramp Soup
Geoff Meadley and Suzanne Ainley
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