Saturday, April 19, 2008


For years I've been hearing about the Appalachian delicacy known as ramps, which are wild leeks that can only be found growing in the region in early spring. So when not one but two ramp festivals were being held this weekend just north of Morgantown, I had to go check them out. And besides, having been disappointed by the other famous local foodway--pepperoni rolls--I was ready for a shot at local-food redemption.

The first festival we went to was on the Pennsylvania side of the state line, and was what I think most folks think of as a typical local festival: parking in the grass, baby animals, some guy with a guitar playing old Hank Williams songs over a crappy PA system, and a dubious but humorous craft sale (my favorite item: varying lengths of railroad ties lashed together with rope, with a lamp on top and some ceramic figurines and fake flowers on the lower levels...pigs, angels, whatever charms you).

And, of course, the food. Here you could get beer-battered, deep-fried ramps (thumbs up), hard-boiled eggs pickled in ramp vinegar (big thumbs down, though whatever wild creature eventually eats the half that Tom flung into a field might disagree). We eschewed the ramp wine, but did get the ramp sampler platter: ramp latkes (really), ramp tapenade on bread, baked beans seasoned with ramps, deviled eggs with ramp filling, ramp salad, and a ramp chocolate-chip cookie (which, believe it or not, wasn't bad). And some home-brewed sassafras tea to wash it all down while sitting on a blanket looking out over the hills where the redbuds are in full splendor. Paradise.

Once we were able to waddle back to the car, we tooled down Buckeye Road along Dunkard Creek to the ramp festival on the West Virginia side of the line--aptly enough, at Mason-Dixon Park, where the intrepid surveyors apparently had to stop their initial expedition when their Native guides refused to continue into Shawnee territory.

Here, I'd say the "festival" was a little more like your traditional single-food celebration, with no a la carte options: you pay your $9.00 and you get your sit-down ramp-themed dinner, eaten at long communal tables with folks who probably live right down the road. Since we were still belching ramps from the previous adventure, we declined to get in line, but were intrigued as we walked back to the car to hear some guy in a car with Florida plates asking where there might be chanterelle mushrooms growing wild. Another wild spring foodway that we need to find out about, perhaps?

Unfortunately, I don't trust my foraging skills to recognize non-poisonous mushrooms, or to find ramps in the wild (though I could've bought a ramp hoe at festival #1). Instead, we bought a bunch of fresh ramps to bring home. Who knows what we might do with them--not cookies or wine, I can assure you. But with their mild, garlicky-onion flavor and leafy texture, they'd probably be delicious in just about anything else. (Maybe these recipes from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette will provide some inspiration.)

But man, I already know that late next winter, I'm going to start craving the battered and fried version again. Maybe by then my arteries will have cleared...

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