By Martha Bryson Hodel
The Associated Press
RICHWOOD, W.Va. - Who would have guessed? Ramps, those smelly harbingers of Appalachian spring, have gone from hick to hip.
Celebrated in the eastern mountains as the first green thing to show its tips after a hard winter, ramps are a much-anticipated rite of spring for Appalachians.
Their raw odor - think fresh garlic, only magnified - does nothing to deter fans in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, who look forward to frying up the first mess each year as a spring tonic.
But these days wild ramps are no longer a regional delicacy.
Web sites dedicated to gourmet foods now offer ramps alongside truffles and other wild foods, and include cooking suggestions such as "One-Hour Calamari in Umido with Ramp Bruschetta."
Ramps have become so popular that a year ago the National Park Service banned ramp collecting in the Great Smoky Mountains for fear they would be harvested out of existence.
"The popularity of ramp festivals ... and the appearance of ramp recipes in various publications like Southern Living have increased the demand," said former Smokies Superintendent Michael Tollefson.
The ramp is related to wild leeks, and is native to eastern woodlands from Nova Scotia south to the central Appalachian states. About the size of a scallion, ramps are related to chives, leeks and onions.
"Ramps are mighty interesting little critters," says Glen Facemire Jr. of Richwood, N.C., who describes himself as the world's only ramp farmer. "Really, the ramp is the coyote of the vegetable world. He is a survivalist."
From the last week in March through the second week of April, Facemire ships fresh ramps by priority mail for $10.75 a pound, or $17.25 for two pounds, shipping included.
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