Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

All for the Love of Appalachia's Stinky Onion ; the Ramp, a Wild Onion Savored by Foodies, Is Now in Season. but Overharvesting Means the Pickin's Are Getting Slimmer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

All for the Love of Appalachia's Stinky Onion ; the Ramp, a Wild Onion Savored by Foodies, Is Now in Season. but Overharvesting Means the Pickin's Are Getting Slimmer

Article excerpt

Nestled between the ferns here on Whitetop Mountain (5,520 feet) is an Appalachian delicacy known as the "stinky mountain onion" or ramp. It's a veggie with a storied past and nose-gripping appeal for foodies.

For mountain folks like Kevin Sulins, who emerges from a trout stream near Whitetop Mountain with a full string of rainbows for Saturday supper, supplementing meager incomes by hunting game as well as gathering ramps and other crops on public lands goes back generations.

"We like to pick ramps every year," says the career handyman. "They taste real good."

The Appalachian ramp has had growing appeal over the past decade - from dozens of humble hill festivals at the season's high point in mid-April until the end of May to the best tables at the famous Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia to well-known chefs.

This spring for the first time, botanists in North Carolina are taking the wild seeds and replicating the soils for commercial cultivation of the ramp.

"Part of our strategy with the ramps is to develop crops that are specific to the mountains so they can't be taken away from us," says Beverly Whitehead, of the Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association in Robbinsville, N.C.

The ramp is named after the early British word "ramson," or son of Ram, the spring buck, which represents the months of March and April. That's when the wild onion first pokes up from the forest floor. The veggie once nourished native Americans, and provided a Vitamin C blast that protected Appalachian settlers from disease, says Jeanine Davis, associate professor of horticulture and a ramp expert at North Carolina State University (NCSU). It was also the bane of one-room school teachers in May, when students reeked of its strong onion-and-garlic smell.

People who live in these parts hope that the ramp can help fill the revenue gap since burley tobacco - the major Appalachian cash crop in the 20th century - is on the way out as with smoking in restaurants. …

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