Sunday, November 25, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: West Virginia I - How to pickle ramps when there are no ramps to pickle? (Or, "Pickled Garlic and Onions")

I'm the first to admit that I know blesséd little about the food of West Virginia.  This heartily Appalachian state does have some specific foods that you find all over Appalachia, and a few unique ones.  Some seem to fit both categories.  Take ramps, for example.  While you find them all over the eastern United States and Canada, West Virginia seems to have embraced them to the point that when you think of food in the Mountain State, you have to think of ramps.

Official Name: State of West Virginia
State Nickname: The Mountain State
Admission to the US: June 20, 1863 (#35)
Capital: Charleston (largest)
Other Important Cities: Huntington (2nd largest), Parkersburg (3rd largest), Morgantown (4th largest), Wheeling (5th largest)
Region: Appalachia, South, Northeast, Midwest; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsChestnutMaple Syrup
Bordered by: Pennsylvania (northeast), Maryland (east), Virginia (southeast), Kentucky (southwest), Ohio (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: black bear (animal, though these are generally no longer eaten); brook trout (fish), Golden Delicious apple (fruit), honeybee (insect, for the honey) sugar maple (tree, for the sap), timber rattlesnake (reptile, though again, not really eaten)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical foods of Appalachia; apple butter; pepperoni rolls; pickled ramps; spoon bread

Ramps are in the onion family, a type of wild onion that grows in the spring.  Traditionally a part of spring recipes of the Upper South and of Québec, so Wikipedia notes, it is also known as wild leek or wild garlic.  Visually, I might describe it as the drag queen of wild onions: all green onion-like at the bottom with a dazzling green flare of garlicky leaves.  And West Virginia simply loves its ramps.  Sticking with the drag analogy for a bit, you find ramp festivals all over the state in the springtime, with ramp aficionados shantaying through a veritable party circuit of ramp kiki after ramp kiki. (Okay I promised myself I would never, ever use the word "kiki" in a sentence - pace, Scissor Sisters).

But as noted before, this wild onion, sadly, sashays away after spring.  Since I'm doing this post deep into the fall, obviously I'm not going to be finding any ramps for the next several months.

So this is a post about pickled onions and garlic instead.

Specifically, pickled onions I bought at the Waverly Farmers' Market, grown in the summer, picked in the fall and fresh waiting for me to immerse in a vinegar-sugar-salt solution.

There are lots of recipes for pickled ramps on the internet, for which I merely swapped out the long out-of-season ramps for the onions.  For good measure, I threw in some garlic, to help make the onions more garlicky, and to have some pickled garlic on hand to boot.  The recipe I used in the end: this recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt [2011] from the Serious Eats website.  I had to swap out red wine vinegar and white vinegar for the white wine vinegar, which I didn't bother to check that I had (I just assumed - remember what happens when you assume things).

The Recipe: Pickled Ramps, er, Onions and Garlic

For these pickled ramps-style pickled onions and garlic, gather the following:

* ramps - or since I didn't have access to ramps at this time of year, green onions (really any onion with small bulbs and green shoots still attached, but cleaned and trimmed; bought at the farmers' market for about $2.  I also added about four cloves of garlic, hopefully to make up for the lack of garlickiness from the lack of ramps)
* white wine vinegar (or since I did not have this, I combined white vinegar and red wine vinegar)
* sugar (had it)
* salt (I used pickling salt that I bought for those pickles from that Kansas post)
* red chile pepper flakes (from a dried chile I had)
* allspice berries (had this)
* bay leaves (had these too)
* whole mustard seeds (either yellow or black will do - had these too)

You should also have some clean jars to stuff them into.

First, clean and trim the onions.

Stuff the onions into your jars.

It doesn't have to be pretty.

Next, boil your vinegar...

...with your sugar, salt, chile flakes, allspice berries, mustard seeds and bay leaves.

Whisk and boil until the sugar and salt have dissolved into the vinegar.

Pour the solution into each jar, immersing the onions.  A canning funnel helps here.

Refrigerate for a few weeks.

These are nicely pungent onions that don't lose their crunch, and garlic that is still very sharp.  I'm already looking forward to spring, when I can get my hands on some actual ramps.  Now, sashay away.


Corbin, JoAnn. "Pepperoni Rolls".  Date unknown.  In Bob Heffner, "Pepperoni Roll and Pepperoni Bread Recipes".  The Pepperoni Roll Homepage, 2002, 2011.

Heffner, Bob.  "What is a Pepperoni Roll?".  The Pepperoni Roll Homepage, 2002, 2011.

Heffner, Bob.  "The History of the Pepperoni Roll".  The Pepperoni Roll Homepage, 2002, 2011.

López-Alt, J. Kenji.  "Pickled Ramps."  Serious Eats, 2011.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "West Virginia" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "West Virginia".