Ramps- An Appalachian Delicacy
by Makayla scott
I absolutely love learning about my family culture and old ways from the past. If you are born in West Virginia, Ramps are most definitely a prominent part of your culture.
The scientific name for these wild onions is Allium Tricoccum, and these plants are most prominent in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Although they do spread a bit farther North, they are considered extremely rare and are an endangered species in Canada. If you’ve never tried a ramp, they are almost a cross between a strong onion and garlic. Just one bite of an uncooked ramp will cause the smell to last for hours on one person, but the flavor is well worth it!
In my family, ramps are considered your “spring tonic,” or as my grandpa said, they make you shed off your old skin after a long winter. I love the stories of how the family would all leave home to go out into the mountains with their ramp hoes and sacks to dig. They would watch the Lilies in the flower beds, and when they were blooming, they knew it was time to hit the woods in search of their treasured onion. The Lilies were their “ramp clock.” In my family it wasn’t just “digging ramps,” it was a whole family trip, no matter your age. Our family would load up in the family vehicle and head straight up the mountain to reach that secret “honey hole.” Even though this secret honey hole was probably the same place dozens of other people found ramps and dug there, it was always the secret spot. Of course, the rougher the climb, the more ramps you’d get; everyone hits the easy pickens!
My family and I go to the same honey hole every year. We will dig for hours, and afterwards comes the best part of ramp season. We take a break and wash a few ramps the creek. We stop to open the cooler and make lunch, which consists of bologna, American cheese, Dukes mayonnaise, and a pile of freshly dug ramps. Such a combination that lights up your taste buds better than any other $50 restaurant dish can. In all reality, this is something you can make at home on demand, but they never taste as good as they do deep in the mountains. The combination of dirty hands and mountain air is something you cannot replicate. After we are finished, we get back to digging until our sacks are full.
Makayla Scott digging and sampling the ramps.
Even though we usually only dig enough for a few meals, we preserve and freeze anything we don’t use to enjoy them all year. Ramps are a spring delicacy and only grow up until middle-late spring. You can do dozens of things with these plants! You can turn them into an oil, you can pickle them, you can make a pesto, you can make a risotto, and heck, even biscuits! Ramps are as versatile as any other onion, so you can get creative in what you want to infuse with the garlicy-onion flavor!
Cleaned ramps along with morel mushrooms, another spring delicacy.
Ramps have not only been enjoyed as a family-favorite spring dish in West Virginia, but they were the community’s main fundraiser for churches and firehouses for years, with ramp dinners and festivals in about every local West Virginia community. But, as the older generation has sadly aged out, like the old weekend turkey shoots, they are all but a memory. The famous ramp dinner at the Scott house consists of ramps, parboiled and fried in bacon grease in an iron skillet, fried potatoes (also in bacon grease), country ham, brown beans, and corn bread. Then, you wash it all down with some wild sassafras tea.
Ramps cooked in an iron skillet.
Although I enjoy ramp digging like every other West Virginian, to me it’s not just about the ramps… it’s about climbing the same mountains my family before me did. It’s about sharing a tradition that my ancestors have shared for hundreds of years. Sometimes, when I go out with my father and siblings to our old family “honey hole,” a take a deep breath of the crisp mountain air and just think about the years of family that’s been there before me. It’s like I can see the stories my father has told me play out right in front of my eyes.