Early spring in Davis is beautiful, but it’s lackluster when compared to warmer places with their opulent flower spectacles. Our spring is more subtle than that, and it takes forever to get here. That’s why ramps are such a celebration in the mountains. They are proof that the season has finally turned, and they’re a great treat for those of us who seek out wild and local foods.
Ramps are wild leeks, Allium tricoccum to be specific, and members of the lily family. They are a pungent cross between garlic and onion, with delicate strappy green leaves and a white stem that looks a lot like a scallion. Ramps grown on steep rocky hillsides at higher elevations, which makes them a challenge to dig. But they’re worth it. Because they add a marvelous garlicky flavor to bland foods like eggs and potatoes, which is how they’re served at many traditional ramp dinners, called “ramp feeds” by locals.
At the Bright Morning Inn, we scramble them with fresh orange-yolked country eggs and potatoes, or sprinkle them in omelets with bacon and cheese. They’re wildly popular, but they don’t last long. By the middle of May most local ramps have withered or grown too big and stinky, which means one thing: you must eat them, as many as you can, when they’re in season. They’re a spring tonic, and a tangible tie to our forebearers, who relished the first wild greens of the season in all their forms.
On May 2nd the Mount Grove Volunteer Fire Department will host their annual ramp feed near the Tucker County line (about 9 miles north of Davis). From 11 am to 3 pm you can feast on an array of traditional country dishes including fried pototoes, pinto and great northern beans, cornbread, ham and various raw and cooked ramp treats. It’s a truly special slice of West Virginia culture you won’t want to miss. In fact, it has been chronicled in the Spring 2010 issue of Goldenseal, our magazine of West Virginia Traditional Life.