West Virginia’s Anti-Stinkiness Thing About Ramps – School’s Out
Wild leeks or ramps, technically known as Allium tricoccum, are sort of like a cross between garlic and a green onion. They look like green onions, taste sort of like a cross between onions and garlic, and smell like nothing else on earth.
Ramps are a popular side dish in the Appalachian Region of the United States. Personally, I’m from West Virginia, and they grow wild there, as well as in Kentucky, North Carolina, and actually much of eastern North America – they actually grow from Canada all the way to Georgia, but they are most widely eaten in the Appalachians. Ramps have enjoyed a bit of notoriety, however, in that they have been used on some popular cooking shows like Iron Chef America and Top Chef.
Right, right, you’re all saying. What does this have to do with weird or crazy laws? Well, I started looking into this because I remember my father telling me that when he was in elementary school if a kid came to school after eating ramps he or she was sent home. So, there was this school law saying you couldn’t come to school after eating ramps. I looked into it and was happy to find several accounts on the internet that backed up this information. I didn’t, however, find anything definitive in the bylaws of the West Virginia School System that explicitly states this as a rule. I suppose it’s a case-by-case, school-by-school kind of thing.
If you haven’t already figured it out, ramps are really stinky. Eat them raw, and you’ll smell like them for two or three days. My dad used to come home from camping trips and positively reek of the worst onion/garlic/rotten smell for quite some time. Since ramp season is April/May-ish, Native Americans believed that they had regenerative powers and that the smell was the old dying off to make way for the new.
It turns out there is, in fact, some law about ramps, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the stink. Ramps are a protected species of plant in Quebec. You can have ramps, but not enough for commercial use (ie sale to restaurants, shipping to customers, etc.) A similar act is in existence in West Virginia, where you can have ramp festivals, but no restaurant is allowed to serve ramps (also called wild leeks).
Your best bet to experience this unique vegetable first hand is to get thee to an Appalachian village for a ramp festival. They are fewer and further in between because fewer ramps are growing wild. For instance, most 2009 ramp festivals were canceled because of bad weather or lack of ramps. Go do a little research, and taste this wild delicacy while you still can.