Rustic Elegance and Homage

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We were invited to a food event which celebrated the delicious and wild ramp.

ramps growing wild
Ramps growing wild (Photo by Matthew Cialdella)

When we were first invited it felt like a fun get-together. Everyone was going to bring something with ramps or that went with the ramps. There were going to be 50 or so people, including kids.

Well, I was a bit off in my initial expectation. I will say that the Event we attended exceeded my expectations 100 fold! I now feel honored that we were invited.

I honestly don’t know where to start. The whole day was amazing. The people I met were incredible. The food… Holy cow! (Actually, that might be the only meat we didn’t eat. Seriously.)

This event, called Ramp Fest, was put together by a fantastic dinner club, Highlands Dinner Club. We met the founders a couple of years ago and have heard about this Ramp Fest, among other events, that sounded very interesting. So getting this invite was pretty awesome.

We came up with a dish to bring and share. When we checked in to see how many people we should prepare for we were told that we should make enough to feed 60 or so people. There would be a lot of other food so everyone would get to taste pretty much everything. Oh yeah, and the actual expected headcount is close to 120. WHAT?! Clearly this is not a little get together.

Oh yeah, and it was sponsored! The location was the beautiful Ironbound Farm in Alexandria, NJ. The event was sponsored by Jersey Cider Works. This farm is in the process of growing cider apples and making their own hard cider, from real, local juice (instead of concentrate from over seas). They have also found the apples which, thought to be extinct, were used hundreds of years ago when George Washington drank hard cider from Newark.

This is already starting to sound like a commercial… But I had to set this up so I could tell you about the heart of this event.

The people that were a part of this, in all aspects from the conception to the execution to the consumption to the clean up, have 2 things in common: 1. They LOVE food! 2. They RESPECT food. I only interacted with a small fraction of the people but I could tell that these 2 traits ran deep.

FOOD LOVE

Every dish that was presented was devoured with gusto and sincere appreciation. There was no wasting of food. There was no shortage of genuine compliments to the chefs. People licked their fingers and probably their plates – though I didn’t actually see this happen.

The list of food was astounding…

Pork sausage patties with chai spices, shrimp that were bigger than a man’s hand, groundhog made with pickled ramps, venison, ribs with a cider reduction barbecue sauce, artisanal breads and cheeses, frog legs and cheesy grits, chocolate-ramp and strawberry-cider sorbet, pirogi casserole with ramp sour cream, a pig (yes, a whole pig), homemade chips and tomatillo-lime-ramp salsa, waffles with fresh whipped cream and reduced cider caramel sauce, ramp hush puppies… I’m salivating thinking about everything again.

I am sure that I missed some things but you get the idea. By the end of the night everyone was sated. And there was hardly any food left.

Things were cooked on the grill, a few different grills actually. (There’s a third one on the left, too.)

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Whenever there was something about to be cooked, cooking or had just finished cooking, there were also a dozen people with cameras. (See the guy kneeling? He’s taking a picture. Since this was early in the day he’s the only one.) These people LOVE food and want to remember it in all of its stages.

FOOD RESPECT

The other thing that these folks have in common is that they respect the food that they eat. I don’t know exact numbers but a large percentage of the food that was consumed was local and/or organic.

ramps & morels
Ramps and morels from Ironbound Farm (Picture by Ben Walmer)

There were ramps and morel mushrooms which had been foraged right on the farm. Some of them even that day. (Talk about farm-to-table!) The pig was a free range pig. The vegetables were harvested from a local farm earlier that day. The cheeses were made from the milk of ‘happy cows’.

It was wondrous to see so many people who respected the food and the land in one place. It made me truly thankful to be part of such an event where Nature was as much a guest as a location.

I don’t know if anyone took a moment to pray or to give thanks in any formal manner but I can tell you that the awe and reverence that I encountered by talking with people that day was sincere and that The Universe, The Creator was surely present and, I would imagine, happy.

A sincere thanks to our friends for the invite and the sponsor for hosting. We’ll be talking about it for years, I’m sure.


All pictures were taken by me, unless otherwise noted.
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