All Ramped Up

Listerine's next ad campaign

When I tell all of my city slicker friends that I went home to Tennessee for the Ramp Festival, they have no clue what I'm talking about. I think they envision me on a gnarly skateboard doing some smooth Tony Hawk moves on a steep ramp in a bitchin' park. Either way, their expression is just as perplexed as if I were actually doing just that. Maybe you know the ramp as Allium tricoccum, but I bet not. How about a wild leek or wild onion? Yeah...now you're getting the picture.

A ramp grows in the wild in North America as far south as South Carolina all the way up into areas of Canada (but only on the somewhat shady northern side of the areas where it's found to be growing) and is harvested in the spring. There are festivals, websites and even Facebook pages dedicated to "The King of Stink" and it has recently made a resurgence into upscale restaurants and local cuisines. Where I come from though, we don't worry about fancyin' up no ramps when we eat 'em!  We fry 'em up in some grease with some taters and serve 'em alongside pinto beans, chow chow and streaked meat.  (In order to appear as if you really know what you're talking about here, you have to make the word "streaked" into two syllables.  Say it with me:  Stree-ked.  "Stree" with a long "e" sound and "ked" just like the shoes. )

Streaked Meat

That's some good eatin' right there, my friends!

For those of you who've never tried them before, there is one caveat when it comes to ramps ~ when cooked, they are as mild and delicious as a what we know as a scallion or onion or shallot but when consumed raw....well, I feel sorry for anybody standing within a 10-foot radius of you. Raw ramps are potent as evidenced in this setup for the ramp eating contest. Each contestant gets a pack of gum to help alleviate the after effects. One brave woman volunteered to enter the contest much to the horror of her husband because he knew he'd have to enter too just to be able to tolerate her for the next few days! My grandmother tells a story of my uncle eating ramps when he was young, coming home and going into his room for bed and shutting the door behind him. When she opened the door the next morning to wake him, the fumes nearly knocked her down.

In addition to delicious, down-home cooking, the ramp festival held in Flag Pond, TN featured music from local musicians, t-shirts for purchase and a chance to catch up with people I haven't seen in ages. It was an excellent trip home and a chance to get back to the roots of my heritage.

Even after 40+ years of blissful, happy marriage there are some things even my mother won't do for my dad.

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