A sure sign, and smell, of spring here: Ramps

Plenty of people in these parts dig ramps.

Some of them literally.

And now is the time to ramp it up.

This past weekend, Darcy Riggs was out digging these wild leeks, so she and her family can serve them for one of the ramp "feeds" that are an Appalachian rite of spring.

Ms. Riggs, the assistant director of dining for Country Meadows Retirement Community in South Fayette, helps with a dinner that's held at Olde St. John's Episcopal Church in her hometown of Colliers, W.Va.

From 3 to 8 p.m. this Saturday, April 27, she, her sisters, cousins and other volunteers will be serving Italian sausage and ramp sandwiches; ramp hotdogs; fried potatoes with ramps and bacon; soup beans and cornbread; and many desserts. Cost is $7 for dinner, with ham or dessert for $1 more; proceeds benefit the landmark church and its summer reading program. You can even buy fresh ramps to take home (but those will go fast). For information, call 1-304-527-4746.

Ms. Riggs, 36, digs ramps on a wooded hilltop her family owns in West Virginia. Doing it with family members is part of the fun: This year, they took her 1-year-old nephew, Wesley, on his first dig, and started teaching him how to do it.

"We definitely dig them in a sustainable way," says Ms. Riggs. "We only dig a little out of each patch." And she makes it a point to replant the roots from the end of the bulbs.

St. John's is not the only place that you can ramp-up your breath and body odor. While several restaurants around the region work to get them and work them into their spring menus, an outdoor ramp fest might be the more fun way to eat them.

Two fests are happening this weekend, and they're both at Mason-Dixon Parks.

At the one in West Virginia -- in the Red Barn at Mason-Dixon Park in Core, W.Va. -- the Ramp Feast runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu includes fried potatoes, deviled eggs, soup beans, ham, "our famous ramp salad," homemade noodles, biscuits, sausage gravy, freshly baked bread, applesauce, sassafras tea, "ramp and non-ramp cakes, and assorted additional menu items, flavored with ramps (and some without)." Cost is $9 for adults and $5 for children age 12 and younger (kids under 5 with an adult eat free). For information, call 1-304-680-7353 or 1-304-879-4101.

At the Mason-Dixon Park in Pennsylvania -- just off the Mt. Morris, Greene County, exit of Interstate 79 -- the 23rd annual Ramp Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, April 27-28. Admission is free for music and crafts and other fun, and the menu of food you can try and buy is big: beer-battered, deep-fried ramps; ramp burgers; ramp kielbasa; Mason-Dixon Dogs (chili, coleslaw, sauerkraut, onions, ramps -- just $1, and free to veterans); ramp lettuce salad and ramp salad; ramp shish-kabobs; ramp potato soup; ramp butter; soup beans and cornbread; "hoopie hash" and even a ramp sampler plate. There will be a "ramp wine & ramp cheeseball tasting."

Plus there's a lot of non-ramp foods: sweet sausage and barbecue pork sandwiches; fries; cabbage & noodles; biscuits & gravy and other breakfast foods; baked goods including salt-risin' bread; donuts and funnel cakes; cotton candy; lemonade; sassafras tea. The list goes on. Check it out at masondixonpark.net or call 1-304-879-5500 or 1-304-879-5372.

There are several other dinners, including one at the VFW Cannon Hill Post 3008 in Rowlesburg, W.Va. ($8), also this Saturday, April 27, from noon to 4 p.m.

For a listing of regional ramp events, including the big Stinkfest up in Bradford in May, check out kingofstink.com.

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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