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The 4-H ‘Leek-A-Thon’

Participants celebrate a favorite local wild delicacy at the annual “Leek-A-Thon” at the author’s home.

May 15, 2014

Following in the tradition of Appalachia, we recently held our own ramp festival celebrating our native wild onion. Dubbed the “Leek-A-Thon,” by my husband John, our 4-H club gathered to dig wild leeks (also known as ramps) in the moist woods of our old farm.

Wild onions—by whatever name you call them—are a spring pick-me-up. Their glossy, green color is in itself a tonic to our winter-tired eyes. The graceful, scallion-like shoots are found across eastern Canada and the eastern United States particularly in the American South.

It was a good day for a “Ramp Tramp.” Our kids bopped from patch to patch, digging a few here and a few there with sustainability in mind. Then it was on to clean them with the garden hose and chop them, leaves and all, to make ramp pesto. This recipe (see below) is a tasty variation on the usual blend made with basil but without the garlic. Ramps also go by the name “wild garlic,” so the flavor is maintained with the ramp’s own characteristic kick.

We also had the traditional leek and potato soup, and another club member made and brought a leek and tomato quiche.

Of course food is the focus of any leek festival—the long- running ramp festivals held in the South commonly offer dinners of ramps with eggs and fried potatoes. Festival menus extend to ramp wine and dishes such as stuffed morels with wild ramps.

But leeks are no longer just a part of rural cooking; upscale restaurants are now featuring wild leek gratins and pasta dishes. And Martha Stewart offers recipes such as watercress and ramp soup and soft shell crabs with pickled ramps.

In recent years, a lucrative commercial market has developed for the lowly wild leek, fetching up to $17 a pound for this increasingly fashionable and chic delicacy. Popularity has so grown that there is concern that excess harvesting may run out ramp populations unless practices to conserve and protect them are employed.

Our 4-H club is now in its 9th year. As is the custom of the Hancock Area 4-Hers, our club meeting ended with a game of kick the can and the usual running around in the yard. Of course the running around part is always the most fun part of our meetings.

Ramp pesto

10 ramps, roughly chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1 oz. ricotta insalata

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Black pepper to taste

(I had difficulty in obtaining ricotta insalata, so I substituted shredded Parmesan cheese instead.)