HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — It’s wild ramp season in Appalachia. Classified as an allium, this plant grows wild in the hills of West Virginia. Locations of patches are coveted information and everyone has a different take on the best way to eat them.

Josh Parks, from Bluefield, West Virginia, says that winters are not as harsh as they used to be, but for early settlers who experienced consistently colder, snowier winters, seeing the ramps come up was a relief.

“It’s the harbinger of spring. It’s just a nice feeling to see the ramps come up and they taste delicious,” Parks said. “It’s uniquely Appalachian.
He has been foraging ramps for over 20 years. He recommends looking for ramps on north-facing slopes because they grow better with less sunlight.
“They’re really easy to spot, they’re the first thing that comes up really in abundance in the spring. It’s a really wide leaf. They’re hard to miss when you’re in the woods,” he said.

The bulb looks like a spring onion but the leaves are wider and flatter. In between these two parts of the plant, the stem looks purple.
“They are the first wild-foraged, edible greenery that comes up in the spring,” said Shelly Keeney, director at The Wild Ramp farmer’s market in Huntington.

The Wild Ramp received its first ramps of the season on Friday. The plant is the store’s namesake; it was chosen by the community in a poll. The store sells between 600 and 700 pounds each year, for about $12 a pound.
“If I’m out in the woods, I look for bunny ears sticking up,” said Pam Buchanan, chief financial officer of the Camp Creek State Park Foundation.
The Camp Creek State Park Foundation puts on a wild ramp dinner as a fundraiser every year during the Lumberjack Festival at the park in Mercer County. About 350 to 425 people show up and the event is put on by 20 to 25 volunteers.

Volunteers forage ramps from several locations, clean them and bake them into ramp casseroles. The casserole is served with brown beans, cornbread, coleslaw, desserts and drinks. The cost to attend is $15, they start selling food at 11 a.m. and go until 4 p.m. or until the food runs out. Hot dogs and nachos are also on the menu for anyone who doesn’t like ramps.
This is something she is proud to participate in and looks forward to every year. Before the actual fundraiser, she always makes the workers at Camp Creek State Park the same meal served at the dinner.
“We have a really nice lunch that day. It’s something we really look forward to every year because it’s something you really can’t have year round.”
This casserole has history at the park. It’s made with potatoes, sausage, ramps (leaves and all), eggs and cheese.
“Back in 1978, when my husband was in a volunteer fire department, Mr. J.K. Lilly who was a forester at camp creek back in the early days, he did this casserole, he showed the ladies at the volunteer fire department how to make these casseroles and the fire department did it for a long time as a fundraiser,” Buchanan said.

She convinced the Camp Creek State Park Foundation to pick up the dinner, featuring Lilly’s ramp casserole, as a fundraiser several years ago.
“You’ve got the flavor of the sausage, you fry the potatoes and then you fry the sausage, but then the ramps are just like that little extra hidden flavor that kinda pops out. It’s a very hearty dish,” she said.
This casserole is her favorite way to eat them. Parks, the forager, likes to keep it simple by adding them to an omelet, but he’s heard of the famed casserole.
“I like them in omelets. A big thing here is like a breakfast casserole with sausage, egg, potato, ramp, cheese. That’s what a lot of people do with them,” he said. “And then, they’re really good pickled.”

The Wild Ramp farmer’s market hosts a festival called Stink Fest celebrating ramps every year. This is probably one of the best ways to try ramps in every form.
They make a special, sweet and savory ramp ice cream called “Breakfast Rampage” for the event. It has bacon, grits, ramps and sorghum. The ramp focaccia and “ramp-a-roni” rolls are other big hits; it’s a take on the West Virginia classic pepperoni roll. The ramp potato soup is also available in the freezer section of the store.

They’ve been holding Stink Fest, named for the ramp’s strong odor, since 2015. This year’s festival is on April 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features local foods, vendors and artisans, live music and of course, ramps.
Beware though, ramps are known to make sweat smell like a ramp. Buchanan says that issue is more likely to happen with raw ramps.
“I know people that will just go out and put them on a sandwich, a bologna sandwich. Some people will pickle them. I know someone that dehydrated ramps and he gave me some, I used them in the fall in some chili just to add that little different kick. Some people will wilt them down like you would wilted lettuce,” she said.

Parks says they have the best flavor when they are young, like three or four inches tall.
“Once they get to a larger size, say eight or nine inches, they are really strong. Like really strong. I try to get them when they’ve been up for about a week,” he said.
He says that around April 1, the first ramps pop up through the leaf litter, and he doesn’t usually dig past the third week of April. The date of the first ramp also depends on elevation. In the most mountainous regions, like Pocahontas and Randolph counties, the first ramps come later.
It’s a very short growing season, from the end of March to early May across the region. They don’t freeze well and are difficult to grow at home.
“You’ve got that one little window of opportunity every spring to get them and you seem to get your fill of them then until the next year,” Buchanan said.

Perhaps it’s this short amount of time that perpetuates the competitive frenzy around ramps.
“As soon as March gets here, which is really too early, people start asking: when are the ramps? Everyday we get questions about when the ramps are gonna be here,” Keeney said.
She says that people, even locals, come into the shop year round wondering if they sell ramps because of the name.

The store has five suppliers who sell to The Wild Ramp, most of them harvest the bulbs on their own property where they grow wild. Keeney has to be careful when people come in wanting to sell ramps, she always asks where they got them from to avoid trespassers and illegal foragers.
There are laws about foraging from national and state parks and forests.
This excitement about ramps is what depleted local populations years ago.
“Years ago, it was very hard to find ramps in this part of West Virginia because people had dug them so much and not left any to keep producing,” Buchanan said.
Parks doesn’t completely dig them out anymore. He cuts them so that the root system is still intact.

“My patches that I have access to, I don’t take a lot. I don’t want to hurt the population, so I don’t really dig very many out of each patch,” he said.
He is concerned about over foraging and wouldn’t give locations for any of his patches. He is also against people selling ramps for profit on places like Facebook Marketplace, he says if he knew someone doing that, he would “shame them” for it.
On Facebook Marketplace, a bundle of ramps goes for anywhere between $3 and $20 with some sellers even offering to ship them.

Parks says he would personally gather them for a friend if they asked him, but for the most part just gathers them for himself. “That’s the whole experience, going out and digging them yourself,” he said. Buchanan thinks that most people who forage ramps now are doing a better job about sustainable collection. “It’s a flower, and it’s the bulb of the flowers that we’re eating,” she said.

These plants will eventually flower and leave seeds for next spring. “It’s a once-a-year, unique culinary experience,” she said.