Rampfest sounds like the vernacular of a skateboarder. Rampfest dude, with a long drawn out Dueeeeed. Or maybe something you’d hear at a farm supply store. The ramps at Rampfest are wild spring edibles. I do think that their name needs a little work though. When I think of ramps, I don’t think food. However, they do have another name they are known by-leeks. Still not very descriptive or appetizing. Perhaps there is a method to this madness. I think the Old-timers gave them a less than appetizing name so that they didn’t have to protect their ramp patch from others.
If you don’t know what Ramps are, they are a member of the onion family. They are prized for their unique onion flavor. What is not commonly known is that they are actually a native spring wildflower. They are in a category of wildflowers known as spring ephemeral. As soon as the ground warms they send up two wide green leaves that will fade away after a few weeks, followed by a flower. They are not as common as they once were due to over harvesting, and habitat loss. Since they are spring ephemerals, they will be found in hardwood forests. The hills of the Driftless region provide the perfect growing conditions for them to flourish. Since not much else was blooming this early in the spring they are easy to spot. They look like two very wide blades of grass. Often, they are growing in large patches. Another way to confirm they are Ramps is to bruise the leaf to release the onion scent.
If ramps are something you want to learn more about, then I can’t suggest Rampfest enough. Bree and Eric host Rampfest on their land that is located on rolling hills in the heart of the Driftless. Their land is located just outside of the town of Cashton WI. Cashton, is a small town about 30 miles east of La Crosse in the wooded hills of Monroe County. They operate B&E’s Trees a maple tree farm and have 160 acres of mostly forested land that is brimming with ramps. Ramps can be found growing under the very maple trees that they tap into make their uniquely delicious Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. It was interesting to see how they put a new spin on their products. Bree said “There are lots of great folks making syrup in the driftless, and we didn’t want to compete with our friends and neighbors for space on the breakfast table. In 2013 we met the folks at Central Waters Brewing Company and began collaborating with them to create our Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup and their Maple Barrel Stout. We were bringing maple beyond breakfast into culinary and cocktail spaces, expanding the places maple can be used. We are currently launching our Embark Maple Energy, again bringing maple into new spaces, this time to outdoor and endurance athletics. We had been using maple to fuel our adventures, and this product line gives us an opportunity to share the good energy we find in our forest with people in all the places they find rejuvenation.” As you can see, they even found a way to market their maple syrup in a way that doesn’t compete with their fellow maple farms. Because the ramps grow under the maple trees it provides two crops off the same land. This fits in nicely with the culture of sustainability that is a core belief in the Driftless.
At the registration tent I received a generous swag bag that contained some of their Embark product line and the most amazing trail mix you have ever had! The trail mix is flavored with their maple- YUM! They have taken maple syrup to the next level with their product line. The energy drinks are as energizing as they are delicious. Working with chefs, foodies, and brewers to formulate the uniquely delicious product line. I don’t know if I could say which one was the best as they were all so good, but I am very partial to their Salted Maple. Who knew nutritious energy drinks could be so delicious! The first part of the festival was a guided nature hike. It had a wonderful Eco-tour vibe. On this hike we learned about the many species of trees, fungi, and wildflowers that comprises their property. You will get a glimpse into what it takes to maintain this land and their passion for the land. For instance, we heard about the thousands of taps that were put into the maple trees this year alone! During the walk you will get a sense of how important this land is to them, and why they chose the area around the Timber Coulee Watershed, the oldest watershed project in North America. It’s no wonder they chose to call this place home. We walked in a large loop and returned to the tent where we each received a pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Can it get any better than this I wondered? After the pizza Eric took us out to learn specifically about ramps, and how best to harvest them. For instance, he showed us how to find last year’s flower stalk and seed pod. The old flower stalk may still be standing. They are tan and about a foot tall. Several small branches emanate from the single stalk in circle that is roughly half dollar sized. That is where you will find the seeds. The few remaining seeds are worth an extra look. They are an eye-catching metal gray color with an interesting reflective sheen to them. When you find that you know you are harvesting a fully mature plant. Ramps weren’t the only thing we took with us that day. We left with the memories and knowledge of what sustainability in action really looks like!
Now that you know more about ramps, I hope you give them a try. Get in on the ground floor before they hire a good P.R. person to give them a fitting name or they get a celebrity endorsement. They are only one Kardashian away from going viral.
More Information from B&E’s Trees
There is a similar plant in the “old world” called Ramsons from the Saxon word hramsa, meaning “garlic”. When Europeans came to North America they assumed this was the same plant, and the name Ramsons evolved to Ramps. In Illini Indian language, its name was Chicagoua, and is what the city of Chicago was named for.
Considering how much over-foraging threatens this plant, it would be great to include just a note on sustainable harvest- even though ramps look like an annual, it takes 5-7 years before they produce seed and only 10% of those seeds germinate. Ramps have been wiped out in many areas of the country, and are threatened in others. We only harvest from mature plots with lots of seeds, take only 10% of a clump and only harvest from 10% of the clumps in an area.
by Vince Aiello