David Curtis is ready to enjoy a feast of ramp infused brown beans, cornbread, ramps with fried potatoes and a ramp and wild mushroom omelet. K. Springer photo

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

David Elliott is focusing his trail work activities on the routes of the Mountain Trail Challenge Half Marathon and 5K races scheduled for August 10, at Watoga State Park. David reports cutting downed trees off of the Allegheny Trail between Chicken House Road and the Honeymoon Trail. He plans to clear the Laurel Trail and fill in the tree-throws on the Busch Settlement Trail on his next visit to Watoga.

I can happily confirm the rumor that the trail crew will be getting a brand new chainsaw thanks to the Watoga State Park Foundation. This will greatly help our efforts to keep the trails in tip-top shape for the many visitors who consider hiking the park’s beautiful trails an essential part of their visit.

Ramping up your dining experience

A few years ago, I saw an article in an airline magazine about the 10 best restaurants in New York City. I nearly shouted out a certain expletive that expresses amazement when I saw that one of these high-end dining establishments was offering ramp linguine.

The culinary delight we call the ramp, or if you have a scientific bent, Allium tricoccum, is no longer just the province of Appalachia. The outside world has found out our secret, fellow Mountaineers. Ramps can now be had in Manhattan, and you can take in a Broadway show afterward.

The West Virginia Legislature has, with good reason, seen fit to grant special symbolic status to the pepperoni roll and the Golden Delicious apple as foods of the Mountain State. This seems to be a glaring omission of the much-loved ramp, considering that West Virginia has the largest number of ramp feeds and festivals in the country.

The Richwood Feast of the Ramson Festival is arguably the largest single event dedicated to the ramp in the entire range of the plant.

BTW – What is a ramson? and what is its range you may ask?  What is commonly called a ramp is generally known outside of Appalachia as a wild leek. Ramp is a dialectical variant of ramson, a similar European wild leek. In various parts of Europe the ramp is also called rams, ramseys, ramsden and roms. Whatever name it goes by it is always considered a delicacy and symbolic of the return of spring.

In terms of where the ramp grows wild, they are found as far north as Nova Scotia in Canada, throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and as far south as the higher elevations of Georgia and Tennessee. Although the ramp only extends as far west as Iowa, they are found in great numbers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Still, if we were to ascribe a “ground-zero” for where the ramp has the greatest status as a culinary star it would be right here in West Virginia.

That said, not everyone is partial to the pungent fragrance of the ramp, particularly when cooked and consumed in close quarters. It is said that, at one time, many schools in West Virginia strongly urged students to refrain from going to classes after feasting on ramps.

Every year about this time my friend, Delbert, up in Mudwallow, Ohio, comes home to find that the locks on the doors have been changed. His wife, Janet, and their twin teenage daughters, Thelma and Louise, refused to allow Delbert, a ramp gourmand, to enter the house post-consumption.

This year Delbert fought back by alleging that he actually had the right to eat ramps. In fact, he dug out an old issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine with an article titled Ramps, a Rite of Spring, and pointed to it stating “See, ramp eating is a right, which should not be abridged.” His wife replied, “That rite is not the right right Delbert,” followed shortly by Thelma and Louise chiming in, “That’s right, Dad!”

Well, this homophonic confusion confounded Delbert so completely that he jumped in his car and drove straight to West Virginia for a two-week gastronomic tour of the state’s many ramp feeds and festivals.

He started in Huntington at the Stinkfest, then went to the Ramps and Rails Festival in Elkins, moving on to the Calvary Ramp Dinner in Valley Head, the Feast of the Ramson in Richwood and 12 other ramp feeds around West Virginia. 

He said he would sometimes hit two ramp feeds in the same day. Certain he would not be welcome in any respectable hotel or B&B – he slept in his car with the windows rolled down.

On several occasions, the local constabulary rousted him, ordering him to leave town after complaints from citizens strolling by his car who evidently felt that they had suffered a severe insult to their olfactory system.

Delbert wanted to stay at my house during this ramp-eating odyssey, using it as sort of a base of operations. However, I told Delbert in no uncertain terms there are not enough room deodorizers in West Virginia and Ohio combined to even briefly consider such an outrageous proposition.

I did, however, prepare a traditional ramp dinner for my neighbor, David Curtis, who is a huge fan of ramps.

David was born and raised in Webster Springs and has fond memories of fishing for native brook trout on a tributary of the Elk River. They would bring along bacon and fry the brookies with bacon and ramps, fresh out of the ground. This has served as a precious memory of times long gone to David, and the savory flavor of ramps allows him a brief visit back to those days.

Our ramp feast featured ramp infused brown beans, cornbread, ramps with fried taters and a ramp and wild mushroom omelet – Yum Yum!

Happy Hiking, and remember – harvesting of ramps is not permitted in West Virginia State Parks and forests. You may collect ramps in national forests for personal use only, but there is absolutely no commercial harvesting allowed.

Ken Springer