Back in the day (early 70’s, Halifax), Digger House was a youth hostel of sorts for waifs and vagabonds such as myself. There we knew a young woman who orchestrated the daily meal from the various foodstuffs that had been wheedled out of local grocers (the ones who, astonishingly, had some kind of sympathy for the wayward). Marlenka, a former model from New York, lived with her mate and Siamese cat in a converted step-van on the street, all three vegetarian, seekers of truth, beauty, world peace, on a Kerouac-ian kind of road trip. Perfectly normal for the time. It was through her that I found my excitement in culinary pursuits, as she delivered to us a whole new world of cooking and eating and creativity. Provisions would somehow appear in the kitchen of the old Victorian; maybe there was a budget for some basics to shore up the donations….it was a whimsical larder that might include a few bags of barley, some B-grade produce, a can of tomato soup, molasses. The palette was limited and that made for interesting labwork. On one particular day the only fresh food was green peppers. So we made pancakes. Green pepper pancakes. Which we ate with honey. It’s one of those gustatory snapshots that has achieved a special protected status in the food archives of my brain: undeletable.
Who doesn’t love a good pancake? It’s a pretty popular food, judging from the variety of permutations across the planet. We have the French Crepe, Jewish Blintz, Columbian Arepa, Chinese Mu Shu, the Dutch Baby, American Flapjack, and now….new to me….Korean Pa-Jeon, or, literally, Scallion-Pancake. It is served as a snack, like tapas, in bars, accompanied by beer or rice wine. It’s delicious in the original, with a fiery dipping sauce……and now I’d like to mess with it and substitute ramps for the scallions.
What’s ramps? You may well ask. They’re likely off of your radar unless you frequent farmers’ markets in their season, which is now. I only started hearing about them in the last few years. But, apparently, if you lived near the Appalachian Mountains, you’d be swamped with opportunities to purchase and eat them, and familiarize yourself at the many Ramp Festivals held all over West Virginia and the region. The Feast of the Ramson, was held yesterday in Richwood, W. Virginia, (Ramp Capital of the world as well as home of the NRA –no not that one – the other one – the National Ramp Assn.). We missed it. Maybe next year, when it turns 75. What’s a ramson? Same thing as a ramp. The etymology of both is from the Middle English word ‘ramsyn’ which means ‘wild leek’. They have a resemblance to Lily of the Valley; make sure that’s not what you’re about to eat, unless you want some poison in your pancakes. Crush the greenery for a sniff test, just to be sure…..it should have a garlicky smell. I was lucky enough to get some of the opening season’s pick at the Wychwood Barns Farmers’ Market from Forbes Wild Foods. I paid about a dollar an ounce, a king’s ransom! Even from the Ramp Capital of the world, a mail order pound will cost you $22, (shipping included.) Price be damned, they deserve a fair trial. And once won’t be enough!
Recipe: Korean Pancakes, Ramped Up
1 ½ c flour
½ c buckwheat flour (sometimes rice flour is used)
2 c water
8 oz. ramps
2 to 3 Tbsp oil
Whisk together first 4 ingredients.
Wash ramps, discarding yellowed or damaged leaves. Cut leaves at base. As for the white bulbs, trim off the roots and the first thin outer layer that might look inedible.
Slice ramp leaves and bulbs narrowly and cut into 2 inch lengths.
Preheat a heavy cast iron skillet and add a little oil. On medium heat, place about 1/5 of the ramps (using some white and some green). When they sizzle, ladle on some batter. Brown on both sides, giving it about 5 or 6 minutes. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Keep pancakes warm in 300 degree oven while making the rest. (Room temperature works fine too.)
Recipe: Dipping Sauce
¼ c soy sauce
½ tbsp vinegar
1 ramp bulb, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried Korean chili pepper threads
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
Whisk together all ingredients.
If you don’t have access to a Korean grocer, you may substitute crushed chilis for the pepper threads.
And of course, if you have no ramps, use scallions.