I was wondering how ramps got their name. Since they are one of the earliest greens to show up in our mountains, I conjectured that the name had something to do with the gradual transition from the lean times of winter to the return of nutritious greens in the Appalachian diet. Ramps are high in vitamins A and E and are packed with minerals. This conjecture has no basis in fact, however. I learned from Wikipedia that the name is a modification of the Old English ramson that has its roots in the Greek word for garlic. Ah, well.
Ramps, wild leeks, ramsons, Allium tricoccum, what have you, are cause for celebration and consternation here. In Richwood, just over Kellison Mtn., the Ramp Festival brings people from all over to try such delights as ramp ice cream and the more popular ramp burgers. Ramps have a storied history in Richwood. As legend has it, the editor of their newspaper mixed ramp juice with the ink for a practical joke in one edition, “invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General.” (Wikipedia again.) Ramps continue to invoke ire in Pocahontas County. According to some local teens, one can be kicked off the school bus or out of class if one has eaten too many ramps.
Two years ago, we got ramp seeds from David Cooke and planted them where it seemed they should have been growing anyway. Last week, a few staff hiked to the mountainside ramp nursery and spied hundreds of delicate baby ramps poking through the leaf litter. They tiptoed out carefully, vowing to return with a digging stick once they get a few years on them. Fresh, pickled, or dehydrated, ramps are increasingly in demand in restaurants and stores. One day we hope to realize a little income from our sustainably managed patch.
Even if you are not enthused about eating ramps or sold on their value as a spring tonic, the excuse to get into the spring woods after a long winter makes hunting them an activity worth doing. The blooms of Dutchman’s britches, trout lilies, and shad trees are likely to accompany your walk through the forest. This spring I dug some ramps with my 3 year old. She went from “my legs are SO TIRED they can’t even bend grass” in the pasture, to racing around like a wood sprite once we got into the dappled sunlight of ramp territory. This tonic starts working even before the first bite!
This weekend I made ramp pizza and ramp-butter popcorn. No school bus for us tomorrow.
p.s. Kathleen–I just saw your ramp post. Great minds think alike! Keep the faith–they’ll be worth the wait! –Erica