Appalachian Food

Ramps and Church

ramps in appalachia

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.

Ramp Tramp

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 Fletcher


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.

Tipper

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    That Snuffer kid
    November 12, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    My daddy is a preacher. One time he preached a weekend revival in Marlinton, Pocahontas Co, WV during ramp season. The church that was hosting the revival had a ramp dinner on Saturday. That night after a good hot sermon, a feller came to the altar to give his heart to Jesus. My daddy got down on the floor with him to pray and said the feller must’ve been a drunk b/c his breath bout knocked my daddy out. But daddy pressed on helping him pray through until finally the feller looked at my dad and said, “Preacher, I’ll do anything you say if you’ll stop eatin’ them ramps!” True story.

    I live in western PA now and everyone up here calls them wild leeks.

  • Reply
    Tammy Scott
    May 6, 2021 at 11:53 am

    Tipper, I’ve just found you on here for the first time after watching your videos on YouTube. I watch things like yours and documentaries at night while I’m chilling after a hard day’s work. I, too, have Appalachian roots, although I was born, reared, and still live in West Tennessee. My late Daddy’s people are the Romines folks from Dandridge and New Tazewell, Tennessee. I had the privilege of being close to my Grandma Reba on my Daddy’s side, from whom I learned many valuable skills. I’m a proud Southern belle of combined Appalachia and Delta heritage. Keep up the blog and videos so that younger generations can learn the old skills, as well as faith and family values. I love it!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      May 6, 2021 at 6:00 pm

      Tammy-thank you so much 🙂

  • Reply
    JimK
    April 27, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Nothing taste better than ramps and fried tatars as soon as you dig them. We slwaysc take a skillet with us. It usually doesn’t sit well when you get home to the better half.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 27, 2021 at 11:27 am

    Love these old stories.

  • Reply
    Jane Lovingood
    April 27, 2021 at 11:05 am

    They hold a Ramp Convention every year in Waynesville, NC. I think it’s in May and hosted by the Waynesville VFW. They have good food and music and it is a crowd pleaser.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 27, 2021 at 9:16 am

    Charles Fletcher was a wonderful story teller. I remember reading that story in one of his many books. I am looking for ramps here where I live so I can try them for the first time in my life. They must not grow in KY as none of the older folks know anything about them and I can’t find any plant that looks like the ramps in Tipper’s ramp hunting video.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 27, 2021 at 8:40 am

    I’ve never been a ramp eater but I sure remember kids in school being sent home for eating ramps then coming to school. They created a terrible smell that teachers would hot tolerate. We always got a big laugh out of it! The kids who were sent home laughed all the way out the door!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 27, 2021 at 11:12 pm

      The kids at my school couldn’t be sent home. Everybody rode the bus except for a very few that walked. Very few homes had phones so no calls to parents. Our teachers made the ramp eaters push their desks out in the hall. All the other classes got to share in the the aftereffects of those culinary delights. The bus ride to school was bearable because the cool of the mornings during ramp season kept it dampened somewhat. The heat of the afternoon more than made up for it. To beat all I was the first one on the bus in the morning and the last off in the evening. I got to experience ramps and much more from beginning to end.
      Don’t get me wrong. I like ramps! But, ramps don’t like me. I can eat leeks, onions, chives, garlic, shallots and all the Allium family but only ramps disagree with me.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 27, 2021 at 8:11 am

    I guess that must have been too much of a good thing.

    I recall seeing signs for ramp cook-offs up in southwestern Virginia back in the 1970’s. Churches, volunteer fire departments, etc used them for fund raisers. I never did go to one though now I wish I had.

    I mist likely have posted this before but . . there is a produce stand south of Franklin, NC on US 441 that sells ramps. Was just by there this past Saturday and their sign said they had them.

  • Reply
    Jerry Burns
    April 27, 2021 at 8:09 am

    Ramps don’t sound to good to me but the traditions are real neat.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 27, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Drove my lawnmower over the hill behind my house into the holler. I only pinched off 4 large ramp blades and fixed some eggs with them. My good wife never said one bad word about my breath, but she is tough. I hope to make it to the farm this weekend and dig some ramps. They run from half way up the hill all the way to the creek and the biggest one are in the rich dirt close to the creek.
    That preacher had a good sense of humor. Enjoyed Mr. Fletcher’s story.

  • Reply
    Pat
    April 27, 2021 at 6:24 am

    What are ramps?

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