Feast of the Ramson

RICHWOOD — Glen Facemire Jr. has been digging ramps since childhood. His father once told him that he found him in a ramp patch instead of the proverbial cabbage patch.The Richwood resident now digs and sells ramps to fellow West Virginians who have been eating the wild onions for decades. He also sells ramps and upscale ramp products like seeds, salt, pickled ramps and mustard to city folk and gourmet chefs around the world who have more recently discovered their allure.Ramps, a pungent harbinger of spring in Appalachia, have been an excuse for a big feed in Richwood for 65 years. This year’s Feast of the Ramson on April 26 drew more than 1,200 people from around the country.Richwood area residents began digging and cleaning 2,200 pounds of ramps weeks earlier. It took volunteers about two and a half weeks to clean the ramps and about 16 hours to cook them.Don McClung, president of the Richwood Chamber of Commerce and ramp feed chef, cooks ramps in bacon grease. Three to four bushels at a time are dumped into an enormous covered skillet with four big spoonfuls of bacon grease — which he says is the secret to their flavor — and salt and pepper.After cooking for 45 minutes, they are served with ham, bacon, potato wedges, brown beans, cornbread and sassafras tea.“It’s a tradition,” McClung says. “It was started by a small group of businesspeople here. ... Over the years it’s grown.
“It brings a lot of people into town. ... It’s one of our major fund-raisers to fund the chamber of commerce.”Visitors are drawn to Richwood High School by signs. Once there, they can follow their noses to the door.The taste of cooked ramps is akin to a strong onion.Veterans know it’s best to eat ramps with the same people you plan to spend the next few days with. The aroma seems to ooze out of your pores.The feast also offers raw ramps.Gary Pack of Mount Hope says he’s been eating raw ramps since childhood, preferably on a sandwich with baloney and mustard.He figured, “If I was going to stink, I might as well stink good.”
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