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Sure Signs of Spring — Unpredictable Weather, Branch Lettuce and Ramps

If we weren’t confused enough by the recent time change, the weather patterns of spring will do the job! We’re seeing it all this week, and hoping the early blooms, including those on the local apple trees, are not damaged by the frigid temps in the current weather pattern. And, of course, there is concern for strawberries in the foothills and citrus, farther south. I think we feel the angst every year at about this same time, but one thing is for certain, spring officially arrives in just a few days.

A lot of our mountain folks will be out searching for their annual discovery of ramps. In fact, I’ve already seen someone just across the NC/Va. line post a picture on Facebook of their first “mess,” as it is often called.

The very “strong” member of the onion family, ramps (and branch lettuce) appear in the wild in the early mountain springtime. Ramps have been known to leave a powerful odor on the breath, so don’t get too close to anyone after you (or they!) have partaken of same.

Other signs that spring has arrived will soon find us on guard with the arrival of “April Fool’s Day.” And as we prepare for the sacred Easter observance the following week, the traditional menu for some — coconut cakes, ham and potato salad, etc., will grace our family tables.

One item that might be missing, or at least “reduced” this year, will be that of eggs. Whether dyed for the kids to hide, pickled for the older generation, primarily, or deviled for many others, eggs will be considered “the golden prize” this Easter season in light of their exorbitant prices at the grocery store.

I have seen and heard folks jokingly say that we might be coloring potatoes to hide this year. Whatever the case, we really might be looking for alternatives, and who would have ever thought that the price of eggs would be in excess of $4 a dozen?

For now, however, let’s take delight in some of those traditional springtime mountain favorites that aren’t quite so costly.

Mama’s Killed Lettuce

1 “mess” or bunch of branch lettuce or any type of leafy green

4-6 green onions with tops, thinly sliced, or one small onion, chopped

4-5 bacon strips

¼ cup vinegar (red wine, preferably)

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon pepper

Toss lettuce and onions in a large salad bowl; set aside. In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. To the hot drippings, add vinegar, sugar and pepper; stir well, keeping hot. Immediately pour the mixture over lettuce and onions, toss gently. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top. Serve immediately.

Fried Potatoes and Ramps

5 medium potatoes, diced

5 medium bunches of ramps, diced into 1-inch pieces

Butter or your preference of cooking oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, fry potatoes in butter or oil on medium heat for about ten minutes, then add the ramps and cook until tender, about 20 minutes longer, or until tender. Season as desired.

Baked or Grilled Ramps

About 3 dozen ramps, cleaned and trimmed

2 Tbsp. cooking oil, plus more for serving

Salt and black pepper

For oven, place ramps on a cookie sheet or large baking dish. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated. Move to oven and bake at 325-350, turning occasionally, until the ramps are tender for several minutes. (Timing will vary, depending on your stove and preferred tenderness.) Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with more olive oil, and serve.

This can also be done on a flat-top grill, such as a Blackstone, and will only require a few short, minutes, until done.

Susan Owens’ Ramp Butter

(Repeated upon request)

1 lb. butter, softened to room temperature

4-5 ramp leaves, cut into chiffonade ribbons

Wax paper

(Note: 4-5 leaves will flavor a pound of butter, depending on size of leaves.)

Unwrap 4 sticks of softened butter and add to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the ramp ribbons and stir well.

Place bowl in fridge to stiffen the butter a bit, then divide into 4 parts. Form into log shapes and wrap tightly in wax paper.

Put one in your fridge to use now and freeze the rest for later.

And of course you can make less than a whole pound if you wish, just use less leaves.

Note: Ramp butter can be frozen for later, if desired, and used as you would regular butter. The best way? “Spread it onto hot biscuits or let pats of butter melt on top of a hot steak, or on a baked potato, or anytime you want a boost to a savory food. The possibilities are endless!”