Richwood, W.Va. sits in the southern part of the state nestled near nothing in particular; blink and you’ll miss it. The town is small with a population just over 2000. The town’s most famous resident was Bato Crites – the man who could dig 1000 ramps in an hour. His skills brought popularity to the ramp and Richwood’s famed Feast of the Ramson.
Now, the second most infamous man to come from Richwood, W.Va. chopped the supports out from under Mrs. Farley’s house, blew up the trout in Mr. Fox’s pond, impersonated Evel Knievel every chance he got, and dug ramps every spring with his grandparents. His name is James Carroll, he’s my dad, and surprisingly he grew up to be a (mostly) well-mannered adult.
My roots in West Virginia run deep with both sides of my family being natives to the state, but my dad’s side has a little bit more of a true Appalachian grit to it. They were gritty people.
For example, my grandma was traded by her birth mother for a case of beer and silk stockings and her “adoptive” mother and father could live off the land entirely. They canned food, made jams, and hunted or fished for their meat. These were ramp digging folk.
“Me and grandpa dug a lot of ramps together over in Leivasy on Beach Knob. I love eating them, but I loved riding around in the mountain with grandpa even more. We’d usually spend a day and would dig a bushel,” James said.
They weren’t strangers to ramp feeds either. Traditionally, people congregated to enjoy ramps and good company.
“We had them in Leivasy at the grade school and up at Richwood at the National Guard Auditorium. It was always packed and we would have deer meat, bear meat, and plenty of ramps. There were homemade pies and cakes and always gospel bluegrass music,” he said.
They took place in larger buildings to accommodate the scent of so many ramps being cooked in one space. The scent of a ramp is mild in small batches, but becomes extremely potent when cooked in bulk.
“They stunk, but people thought they were medicine too. Grandpa and Grandma always said you will sweat out any poison you have in you after you eat them because your armpits would turn your white tee shirt yellow when you sweat after eating a bunch of ramps,” he said.
Now, I can’t speak for the medicinal properties or stained tee shirts, but I remember my mom and dad going out to dig ramps when I was little. It was never my thing, but I loved seeing their haul and watching everyone getting excited over the little spring onion that West Virginians hold so dear.
“My best memory of ramps is how they brought everybody together and that was always good medicine,” he said.
The recipe below is a fun spin on ramps that can go into any dish. Ramp butter is simple and a great way to preserve ramps which only last a few days once harvested. It’s perfect to infuse that fresh spring flavor into dishes year-round. If you liked the previous recipe for a ramp quiche, consider using ramp butter in your crust to give it some extra flavor.
For this recipe, you’re going to first make sure that you clean your ramps really well.
Next you’re going to bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. While that is preparing, place a medium bowl full of ice water in your sink. You’re going to blanche your ramps and then shock them to stop the cooking process.
Drop your ramps in the boiling water and allow them to sit for 30-45 seconds. Immediately plunge them into the ice water bath. Then, remove them and allow them to dry out on a paper towel. They should look cooked at this point.
Then, you’ll want to drain the moisture some more. Lay out a few sheets of paper towels and place your ramps across them. Start rolling up the paper towels creating a little ramp burrito.
While those are drying, zest your lemon and then juice it. To get the most amount of juices, roll the lemon against the countertop and your palm before zesting.
Unroll your ramp burrito and chop up your ramps. Combine the ramps, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a food processor.
Blend until you reach the consistency that you like. I preferred a slightly textured butter, so I only pulsed my blender until the ingredients combined.
To store your ramp butter, you can roll it up in parchment paper and freeze it or use it within a week.
My family likes to slice off a piece and melt it on top of burgers and steaks. The uses for ramp butter are endless – enjoy!
- 1 lb unsalted butter, room temperature
- 20 ramps (you’ll use the root and leaf)
- Juice from ½ lemon
- Zest from one large lemon
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper
- Wash your ramps really well
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil
- Set a bowl of ice water in your sink
- Boil your ramps for 30-45 seconds
- Immediately plunge them into the ice water bath
- Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible.
- Spread ramps out on a paper towel and roll
- Roughly chop the ramps and add them to the bowl of your food processor along with the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Process until you reach your desired texture