Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

The Ramp Tramp

Today’s guest post was written by Charles Fletcher.

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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.

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I hope you enjoyed Charles Fletcher’s story about the Ramp Tramp that nearly cleared a church service as much as I did. Leave him a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.

Be sure to drop back by next Monday for another guest post about ramps.

Tipper

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Brenda McLaine
    April 24, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Enjoyed the story very much . Are ramps the same as poke salat?

    • Reply
      tipper
      April 24, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      Brenda-so glad you enjoyed it! Ramps are totally different than poke salat. Ramps are more like a cross between onions and garlic but with their own unique taste and poke salat is more like turnip greens or mustard greens but with a much more intense flavor 🙂

  • Reply
    Tipper
    April 11, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Ed-I actually bought that photo for a dime in an antique store in Canton NC. I just loved the ladies and their hats : )

  • Reply
    harry adams
    April 11, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Reminds me of the Sally, South Carolina Chitlin Festival. We lived close but never went. It was said that the smell of cleaning was done far from Sally to keep from running the people off.
    Also on a trip in California we went through Gilroy. Our daughter was asleep on the back seat and woke up to complain about the smell in the car and to open a window. It was during the garlic harvest and the smell permeated everything. I can’t imagine eating ramps. I always liken them to wild onions.
    I wonder how hungry someone has to be to eat such the first time.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 10, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I am not a forensic vintage photograph analyst but some things suggest the picture was taken in the late teens or early twenties. The ladies’ hats, hairstyles and clothing are definitely Edwardian era (1890-1920). Three men and and the little feller on the left end are wearing bowler hats reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. The other two appear to have pork pie or panama hats. The sleeve garters also in would fit into that time period or earlier. The young lad in front appears to be in a baseball uniform complete with knickers.
    The first thing in the picture that jumped out at me was what appears to be a concertina on the lap of the second lady from the left. It could be part of her clothing but from the way her left hand is tucked in behind it and her right hand across it, it seems more three dimensional than a part of her garb.
    I was wondering where you got the picture. I googled it and there it was on Pinterest but when I looked at who had posted it, it was you. So I’m back to ground zero.

  • Reply
    Miracle WhiteHorse
    April 10, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    My mother and I used to eat wild onions, or perhaps they were ramps, when we went camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just outside of Yosemite in California. They tasted great added to our re-hydrated backpacking food.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Charles Fletcher,I’ve enjoyed ever one of your stories I’ve read.
    Myra there is ramps in KY. Most patches have been destroyed many years ago. I only know of one native patch and another patch I started with transplants.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Charles Fletcher,I’ve enjoyed ever one of your stories I’ve read.
    Myra there is ramps in KY. Most patches have been destroyed many years ago. I only know of one native patch and another patch I started with transplants.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Charles Fletcher,I’ve enjoyed ever one of your stories I’ve read.
    Myra there is ramps in KY. Most patches have been destroyed many years ago. I only know of one native patch and another patch I started with transplants.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Charles Fletcher,I’ve enjoyed ever one of your stories I’ve read.
    Myra there is ramps in KY. Most patches have been destroyed many years ago. I only know of one native patch and another patch I started with transplants.

  • Reply
    Ken
    April 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Tipper,
    I enjoyed Charles’ story about Ramps and Church. Not everyone even knows about Ramps. In the
    town of Waynesville, N.C., it’s still a big thing. There use to be a nice Ramp Patch beside the 7ll road in Nantahala, but as Bill Burnett said “too many knew that story.” Now you have to walk about 2 miles thru the mountains off 7ll and that patch is getting scarce. I got a friend and neighbor that usually brings me a polk full each year. He’s like Don Casada, so I use the “don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 10, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Good Lord, Charles! Sacks full of ramps? How many were you feedin? A couple of big sacks full ought to feed the whole church.
    I remember, years ago, when we used to drive through Canton and be hit in the face by a sulfurous fragrance. Somebody would ask “What’s that smell?” I would take a big whiff and reply, “Smells like money to me.” But now I wonder, maybe it wasn’t the paper mill after all. Maybe it was Charles’s church having a Ramp Tramp.
    Thanks for the good read Charles!

  • Reply
    Maxine
    April 10, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Wonderful story! Times were when we enjoyed Nature’s bounty and celebrated with family and friends. Just leave enough to keep the ramps growing- good stewardship is the key to good fellowship for generations to come!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 10, 2017 at 10:04 am

    With ramps so in demand, I hope they do not pass regulations as they have ginseng digging. Recently many were arrested in WV for digging ginseng out of season. I don’t care for progress if everything is regulated. The tradition of Ramp Tramp sounds so enjoyable.
    On a lighter note, I surely enjoyed this story by Charles Fletcher. They were attempting to date a picture of my great aunt by the clothing worn. Her hat looked identical to the one adorning the head of the lady in the middle of the picture.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I really enjoyed the story from Mr. Fletcher. I could imagine the people in the church when the pungent smell of ramps found their noses!

  • Reply
    Myra Henry
    April 10, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Being from KY I had never heard of ramps until a few years ago when festivals began springing up in neighboring West Virginia. Sounds horrible. Loved your story, though.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 10, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Those Fletcher boys wouldn’t let ANYTHING keep them from attending church. Several years ago, I was stuck in a confined area while I trained a new hire who surely just attended one of those festivals. If your family smelled like she did, I understand why the congregation took out the handkerchiefs and cleared their throats. Charles, I bet the preacher was glad you decided that would be your last Ramp Tramp.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 10, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Oh my! As a preacher friend of mine says,”That would preach!” But maybe not to a Sunday School class! Anyway, of such events are lasting memories made of the place and the time and the people that more than redeems the downside. If nothing else, it shows a good fellowship that extended far beyond the church walls, in other words, the best kind. Thanks Charles.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 10, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Ramp Festivals are still popular in many towns and communities and are used as fund raisers for civic endeavors. Though most of these sponsors intents are honorable they are killing the Goose which laid the Golden Egg by wiping out so many Ramp patches. By digging large numbers of Ramps they are destroying many of what used to be large prolific patches where earlier generations kept their locations secret and always left enough Ramps to make sure the species wasn’t wiped out. Today many are only interested in how much money they can generate and are destroying Ramps in many locations.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 10, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Good story! Thanks Charles, I never really cared for ramps but I love the tradition of ramps in the spring and I have cooked them with eggs and with fresh spring trout.
    This is another tradition that’s almost gone…but not completely gone. I’ve known the Deer Hunter to cook a mess of ramps.

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