Ramps, also known as wild leeks, can feel elusive. They can only be harvested for about four weeks each spring. Their seeds take three or four years to germinate, and those plants take three or four more years to produce seeds of their own. But they grow well in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And April is peak season for festivals celebrating them.
If you’ve never had a ramp, Diane Seskes says, the taste is a combination of onion and garlic, so strong that it might emanate from an eater’s body for days.
Ramps “were infamous for people that were in the Appalachian mountains and valleys,” says Diane, event coordinator for Ramp Up Peninsula, an annual festival celebrating the wild leek. “Now, five-star restaurants use them in the spring. It’s gourmet food. There’s recipes galore. Restaurants serve them. It’s like morels and all those delicacies from the wild.”
Diane, who owns Peninsula’s River Light Gallery and Log Cabin Gallery, says she and her partner Don tasted ramps for the first time more than a decade ago. Don and his friends had hiked every Sunday morning for years. One morning, a member of the group spotted ramps growing off the trail. They took them home, fried them with bacon, and were impressed.
Then, Diane says, she and Don started going to ramp festivals in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. They sampled foods prepared with ramps, including everything from ramp pierogis to ramp wine. A few years later, they hosted a ramp dinner in their home.
In 2013, the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce hosted Ramp Up Peninsula for the first time. The ticketed event drew 498 people despite snow, Diane says.
Two years ago, the festival moved to downtown Peninsula. It’s no longer ticketed, but Diane believes its largest crowd was around 1,300 people.
Ramp Up Peninsula 2019 takes place on Saturday, April 27 from 11 am until 4 pm.
There are at least 46 vendors — Diane has lost count — selling everything from ramps by the pound (at an estimated $16 per pound) to ramp-infused candies to “Bloody Stinkin’ Marys.”
Stray Dog Cafe will be selling ramp relish, French ramp soup and ramp mac n’ cheese. The Pierogi Lady is bringing spaetzles, ramps & wild mushrooms sautéed in ramp butter and pierogis including potato ramp parmesan and potato bacon ramp. Fisher’s Cafe will be mixing ramps into its chili for the day.
“I’m excited that we have more vendors than in the past, with several new ones. We actually have a real good variety across the board of different foods and artisan items that feature ramps,” Diane says. “The one thing that we are missing is cheese. It’s because all the folks that, right now, their goats are being born and farmers markets are starting.”
Many vendors will have samples, Diane says, but she recommends carrying cash for those that don’t.
Peninsula’s art galleries will be open during the festival. GAR Hall, Bronson Church and the Log Cabin Gallery will have live music, including shows by Ben Gage and the Highland Square Rubber City Ukuleles.