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Ramps, the traditional and trendy staple from the West Virginia hills

By Stephen Smoot, The Shinnston News & Harrison County Journal

SHINNSTON, W.Va. — Generations ago, when forests covered all of eastern North America, American Indians and frontiersmen alike scoured the land every spring to find them. They used them for medicine, but also added them to foods for a rush of fresh flavor after a winter of salted meats and dried staples.

Now, every celebrity chef from Gordon Ramsay to Anne Burrell sings their praises and uses them to create robust food challenges on competition programs. 

The once humble ramp has emerged from the Appalachian hills to take its place as one of America’s great ingredients.

Cherokee Indians created a long list of uses for ramps over the centuries. They used ramps to create medicinal tonics to treat coughs and colds and also used them as an essential ingredient for bee stings salves. Historian John Alexander Williams wrote that “ramps, or wild leeks, wild vegetables that appear in the forest every spring, often poked their pungent leaves up through the snow. They have a bad odor when cooked, but are otherwise wholesome.”

Williams added that “children and everyone else looked forward to their coming and they have become a traditional Appalachian food.” Ramps have a flavor that ranges somewhere between an onion and garlic, with a more pungent smell and stronger taste than either.

They remain an essential part of traditional springtime fare. Many organizations, such as the Farm Club of Jones Run, use ramps as a centerpiece of fundraiser dinners that also serve as a time for post winter socializing and family fun.

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