We had ramps and fried taters again for supper over the weekend-they are so so good together!
All the ramp eating we’ve been doing reminded me of a story told by longtime Blind Pig reader Charles Fletcher.
While hunting in the mountains of North Carolina, I saw ramps very often but never gave any thought as what they were used for. I had heard some of the men folks talk about eating them when they were in the mountains for several days. They jokingly said that they smelled so bad that no wild animal would dare get close to you.
The popularity of the Ramp began to get attention and there were Ramp Clubs being formed in different towns and villages. The clubs began gathering together every spring and having what they called a Ramp Tramp. They elected committees for this annual Get–to-Gather. One group would make a trip to the mountains to dig (harvest) enough to feed the big crowds that attended on the big day of the tramp.
Another committee would contact Bluegrass bands and country singers to entertain the crowd. The next assignment was the main and most important one-the cooks. This was a very demanding job. Every cook had to know how much meat to cook with the ramps, and how long to cook before cooking the scrambled eggs. All the other fixings were prepared at home and brought to the celebration. There would be plenty of cornbread, fresh buttermilk and you could bet your last dollar that some Good Old Boy would secretly bring a jug of liquid corn. Of course this wasn’t for everyone. Just his close buddies and maybe a little for the music makers.
The celebration started early with the music and singing. While this was going on the cooks were busy getting ready to feed everyone.
After a good meal of ramps, ham, scrambled eggs, corn bread and a big glass of buttermilk to wash all of this down there would be more music and then the dancing began. For those that didn’t dance they would gather in small groups and catch up on the news from their last meeting. Everyone enjoyed these Ramp Tramps.
The Sunday school class that my brother, TJ, and I belonged to at Oak Grove Church located in the community of Thickety decided to have a ramp tramp of our own. This was after we returned from WWII in the late 1940s. The women of the class were to do the cooking and the men were to go to the mountains and dig the ramps.
As soon as the Sunday services were over several of us loaded up in a couple of cars and headed for the mountains above Crusoe located at the foot of Cold Mountain. This was where we were going to dig the ramps for our Ramp Tramp.
We took a couple of big burlap sacks to put the ramps in. The place that we found the ramp patch was a good one. It didn’t take us long to fill the sacks and head back down the mountain, load up, and head back to Thickety. We were about half way back when it started raining. “We’ll have to cook under the Thickety Community Shed about a mile from the Church” TJ said “A little rain is not stopping us from having our Ramp Dinner”.
When we arrived at the community shed the women were already cooking the meat to get the grease for the ramps.
Some of us were cleaning the ramps and others cutting them into small pieces for cooking. The women soon had everything cooked and on the tables along with the cornbread and buttermilk which they had prepared the day before. After the blessing by one of the men we were ready for our Ramp Meal and none too soon. We all were hungry as a wolf.
By the time we finished eating and cleaning everything it was time for the evening church service. We washed up a little, combed our hair, loaded up in our cars and headed for church.
We all went to our regular seats where we were in a habit of setting. Heads began to turn. People began taking their handkerchiefs out and wipe their eyes and nose. Some even coughed.
The preacher took his place up front and began clearing his throat. “It seems that someone has been to the ramp patch, smells like onions in here. I believe it is worse than onions, more like garlic.”
The preacher was looking directly at Howard, TJ’s brother in law. “It ain’t me preacher”, Howard said. “I only eat one helping but TJ and some of the others eat two or three helpings. It’s them preacher, not me”, Howard said.
“Now wait just a minute Mr. Dotson. You eat as much as I did and you know it.”
The preacher cleared his throat and said “Lets all stand and sing the first and third verse of page 224 in the hymnal on the bench where you are sitting.” The piano player started the music, the song leader stood and we all began to sing “The Lily of the Valley.”
There was no more talk of how we smelled. It has been many years ago that I went to the Ramp Tramp. It was my first and also the last one for me.
Charles has been gone for a few years now, but I sure am glad he shared his wonderful stories of growing up in the mountains of North Carolina with us.