Local food shop 'The Wild Ramp' shows 'signs of the season'
HUNTINGTON -- The signs in The Wild Ramp speak volumes of this short but furious peak of spring drama -- "Impatiently Waiting For Ramps" or "This Spot Reserved for Ramps."
When the latter sign sits on a finely appointed table in the front of the cozy local food market at Heritage Station, that means Brittany Montgomery-Stallo of J&B Stallo Farms has made a delivery stuffing wooden picnic baskets with all the bunches of ramps that will fit.
That delivery of about 15 pounds means the race is on for ramps, the wild leek whose pungent and power puts its family members (onion, leeks and garlic) to shame, and whose mountain-dug love in West Virginia passeth all understanding.
To celebrate that the hills are alive with ramps, The Wild Ramp, which sits on the bricks behind the gazebo at Suite 13, is celebrating with an event called Ramp it Up! Spring Fling! from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, April 13.
The local food store, which features a wild array of products from more than 70 producers (all within 250 miles of Huntington) will celebrate the return of the ramp and the spring growing season on Saturday with some classes, tastes of new locally grown foods, and a reveal of a new artwork at the shop by clay artist Noelle Horsfield and installed by her husband Scott Horsfield. The duo has already created a one-of-a-kind counter.
Last week, Huntington resident, Beth Darby was one of the many folks who signed up to be called when the ramps arrived at the store, which opened in July last year, too late for the spring ramp season.
"I got two yesterday, three today and I will be back Tuesday," said a smiling Darby.
For Darby and for many, the smell of wild ramps cooking in the kitchen is what her mother told her, a spring tonic soaked in family memories.
"Both of my parents are from Greenbrier County," Darby said. "My dad grew up in Rupert and he told me stories about being set outside his schoolhouse during ramp season because he would have the smell. I heard these stories. My mother's brother, I remember visiting him in Greenbrier County and the kitchen was full of ramps, there were ramps cooking and all kinds of varieties and the smell was atrocious. I would not go near them."
But when Darby had kids of her own, she found herself drawn to the powers of the ramp.
"It wasn't until after I had kids that I had ramps and so when I had them I tasted them for the first time and was immediately addicted," Darby said. "If someone says ramp my mouth waters and it affects me like no other food. My mother says it's a spring tonic."
Ona resident Mike Holland, 42, would testify to that.
Holland grew up going to the mountains of West Virginia every spring to dig ramps. When the turkeys start gobbling he feels the call of the wild to gather up friends and head to the mountains to do a little turkey hunting, trout fishing and ramp digging.
Not able to get up to the mountains yet, Holland was excited to find them at the Wild Ramp, even though his wife swore she wasn't touching them.
"You either like them or you don't, there's no in between," Holland said. "I have always loved ramps, even though most people don't. I just like the flavor of them, especially in the morning. Get some fried potatoes, crack an egg, throw some ramps in there. Deluxe."
Holland said he had a friend who dehydrates them, making a ramp powder to kick any food up a notch.
"That was fantastic," Holland said.
Darby prefers raw ramps with fried green tomatoes and pinto beans, then fried potatoes with sautéed ramps.
"That is the standard, and we freeze them if we get enough and you can't get too many," Darby said.
That said, there are wild recipes aplenty online for the ramp, which has had a full page spread in the New York Times, has its own festival in Richwood, dozens of ramp-themed dinners and its own page on the website for domestic goddess Martha Stewart, who like the ramp itself, has done a little time in the mountains of West Virginia.
For Wild Ramp volunteers, the rush of folks like Tiffany Lockhart coming in to get the ramps has been a lot of fun and high energy as Stallo Farms' first delivery barely made it into the door.
Last Saturday, Jennine Barilla, and Suzanne House were working The Wild Ramp, trying to satisfy the Tri-State's thirst -- not only for fresh ramps but also for all things made fresh and local.
"I can't farm and make anything grow so it so great for them to come and share their wealth with us," said House, who moved to the Tri-State from Minnesota in November 2008. "This has been so amazing, you meet all of these foodies. I am from Barboursville so you really get to know more people here and it's just exciting to be a part of it."
House said she set aside some ramps to try with eggs and crème fraîche.
Everyone knows that while the ramp is much loved and celebrated, its season will soon have come and gone.
"She (Brittany) will be bringing more next week and maybe the week after that and then probably the season will be done," Barilla said.
Montgomery-Stallo said that although it is hard work digging and cleaning the ramps off their farm, it has also been nice to continue a family tradition since she used to dig them with her grandfather, Marshall Montgomery, and her dad, Marlin, who passed away when she was 17.
"That is one of my memories of him that we would go, me and my dad and grandpa, and dig them and he would cook them and stink for days," Montgomery-Stallo said with a laugh.
When they bought the farm in Arabia, Ohio in September 2011, they found a whole hillside covered in them.
She said they hope to have 25 pounds for the special Saturday celebration. And this is just the start of their season of providing produce to the Wild Ramp. They hope to soon bring in cold weather crops such as brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower, followed by summer vegetables like green beans, sweet corn, potatoes, squash and more. They hope to do pumpkins in the fall as well as adding pork, beef and eggs.
"I was just doing it as a hobby and my grandpa said he didn't think nobody would want them, so we are surprised that so many people love them," Montgomery-Stallo said. "I think when you live in the city and can't get your hands on them it's easy to go crazy over them."
If you go
WHAT: The Wild Ramp's spring event- Ramp it Up! Spring Fling! featuring new, fresh food from local producers, classes and much more.
WHERE: Heritage Station, 210 11th St., Suite 13
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 13
HOW MUCH: Free and open to the public
CONTACT: Call 304-523-RAMP or visit online at http://wildramp.wordpress.com/
SCHEDULE: 10 a.m. -- Grow Your Own. Get your homegrown blackberry plants, strawberry plants and other starters from local farmers.
11 a.m. -- The Wild Ramp reveals a new art piece inside the store created by Noelle and Scott Horsfield
1 p.m. -- Growing from Seed to Sprout Several farmers will offer their advice about spring planting and answer gardening questions.
WHAT'S THERE: The Wild Ramp carries goods from more than 70 local producers including: meat, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, luna burgers, Mission Savvy ready-to-eat meals and juices, bottled water, ice cream, honey, jam, apple butter, beans, popcorn, barbecue sauces, salsa, coffee, tea, yarn, roving, soap, candles, flour, cornmeal, mixes, chips, pasta, pasta sauce, relish, mustard, ramp sauces, granola, baked goods, local artisan products, used cookbooks and more.