Ramp Season: Odes, Festivals and Recipes

Every April, I start thinking about ramps, the first wild food to peek through the cold ground in early Spring, and the focus of equally wild festivals throughout the Appalachian mountains. For decades, I’d travel down to West Virginia to the Helvetia Ramp Supper to get a transformative blast of ramps, both raw and cooked. Here is one of the best descriptions I’ve heard of that first bite, by David Voodoon Noble, also known as The Ramp Moses:

The ramp fresh out of the dirt, the three leaves, the sinful smell.  Then the first bite of the year, into the raw ramp bulb.  The richly nuanced sensations which cross the tongue, then fill the entire mouth, the full brain after that, the quick shot down the entire spinal cord and into the pulse of spring waiting within us, then the magic of the ramp and the myths.

This year, a very loud and exuberant music video woke me up to the coming of ramps. It’s a spritely homage to ramps by Skip Niebauer, with some true visuals (Video link HERE.)

Niebauer emailed the story of how he came to write the song:

I was first introduced to Ramps about 20+ years ago by a gal from West Virginia. Along the shore of Lake Erie they’re known as Wild Leeks and are picked mostly by trout fishermen. The first day of trout season and the start of leeks is about the same date.  My gal & I were walking in the woods along a trout stream and she pointed them out to me. We took some home and that was the start of my love affair with ramps. I started going to ramp festivals & dinners.

Of course,being a musician and songwriter it wasn’t long before I wanted to write a song about these tasty veggies. But, having an idea to write a song and actually finishing the kind of tune you have in mind are two different things ! That took some time. ha !

When I finished the song I was playing with the Loose Change Band, a country band from Erie in northwest Pennsylvania. We recorded “Give Me Some” -and had a lot of fun doing it !  Later, Tom Weber shot the live footage and edited the video. Sharon Ford let us use footage from a PBS Documentary about Ramp Festivals she produced with Steve Provence.

lauriesmithphoto.com

Helvetia Ramp Supper / lauriesmithphoto.com

Niebauer continues:

I’ve always been impressed with how happy people are at Ramp Festivals. I’ve wondered, is this because Ramp Fests are the first festivals in the spring, or, the first community event of the year, or as some people have suggested, there’s something in ramps that make people smile. I don’t know the reason but the happiness and fun is real. “Give Me Some” is an attempt to capture the joy of these “first green” celebrations.

You can read an article I wrote for Saveur about the Helvetia Ramp Supper here. This year, the supper will take place on Saturday, April 26th. Click here for info and directions. I highly recommend making the trek if you can, to it or one of the many other ramp suppers throughout the region. Click here for a list.

Ramps appear in the Catskills later than the Appalachians. If ramps have already started appearing in your area, click here for recipes.

Maria Robledo

Maria Robledo

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