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Farmer Bob Hinchman sells ramps by the pound out of his Randolph Street home. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Ramp up the flavor: Residents share memories plus tips for preparing Appalachia’s unique spring onion

BUCKHANNON – Here in West Virginia, we boast more than just the seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. We also celebrate a season early in April called ramp season – and it has our residents out clamoring to dig and gather the ‘stinky’ greens.

Many community organizations and nonprofits cook up ramps and host ramp dinners as a springtime way to balance the budget – like the Upshur County Public Library – but what exactly is a ‘ramp’?

According to Epicurious, ramps are a wild plant that is among the first green sprouts to pop out of the ground in the spring, and while they are related to leeks and shallots, they are prized for their unique flavor and are more pungent than both of those. They describe the taste of a ramp as ‘sweeter than a leek with a strong pungency found in garlic.’

Good Housekeeping’s website says ramps can be found in the eastern half of the United States, primarily in the Northeast with a concentration in Appalachia. According to their website, ramps grow in the woods, often on slopes and beside streams and the ramp season lasts three – sometimes four –weeks in mid-to-late April depending on the weather.

Folks who are not familiar with ‘going ramping’ can usually find ramp diggers parked alongside of the roads selling the ramps they have harvested or can find them at country markets or farmers’ markets. Good Housekeeping offered some buying tips and said before purchasing, ask the seller if the ramps were sustainably harvested and suggested that when harvesting, no more than 10 percent of the patches be harvested to allow enough to grow into new patches for future feasts.

Jim Severino is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator who serves as the director of nutrition services at Davis Medical Center. He shared some of the health benefits of eating and gathering ramps.

“Ramps are loaded with Vitamins A and C, selenium and chromium,” Severino said. “They also contain antioxidants which is good to reduce inflammation helping protect the heart.”

Severino said ramps are very low in calories, and they contain little to no carbohydrates. However, he reminded residents that most calories and carbs in ramp dishes come from whatever you are serving the ramps in or with – such as ramps with fried potatoes and bacon or ramps on a pizza. When asked if he thought ramps should be consumed raw or cooked, Severino said to remember that for the most part, anytime heat is applied to a food, the nutritional content is diminished; however, he said cooked ramps do retain some good nutritional qualities.

“Over the years, ramps have become less of a local delicacy and more of a sought-after ‘must-have’ with some world-renowned chefs and their recipes,” Severino said. “There is really no downside with ramps. You get some good heart healthy exercise walking up and down hillsides digging ramps and the nutritional value of ramps is hard to beat.”

Buckhannon resident Bob Hinchman, owner of Rolling Hills Farm, said he’s been digging them for as long as he can remember – probably since age six. Hinchman sells both cleaned and uncleaned ramps out of his home, located at 200 Randolph St., along with berries, fresh fruits and vegetables and his homemade jams and jellies.

Randolph Street resident Bob Hinchman sells ramps out of his home, both cleaned and uncleaned. / Photos by Katie Kuba

“Ramps are getting harder and harder to get,” Hinchman said Tuesday. “In places like North Carolina and Tennessee, they have limits on how many you can have.”

This spring, like most others, Hinchman said he’s both selling and buying ramps.

“I buy them, I dig them, I grow them,” he said. “I pick the seed in the fall and replant them. I’ve been doing it since I was probably six years old. Back in the day, I used to be able to dig about 150 pounds a day, but now I can only do about 22 pounds but I still do it.”

In addition to Hinchman, who sells his wares as part of the Upshur County Farmers’ Market annually, several other residents shared memories they hold dear of times they went to ramp dinners, stories of digging ramps with friends and family members and some of their favorite recipes.

Buckhannon resident Jennifer Drake hated ramps when she was growing up but is now a big fan.

“When we were young, our parents would take us to Helvetia every year,” Drake said. “My brother and I would eat our Happy Meals in the car while our parents spent hours in line waiting for the ramp dinner.”

Drake shared that her favorite way to eat ramps these days is just as her mom, Marcia Drake, would make them.

“I like ramps mixed into a skillet omelet with ham, eggs and potatoes,” she said.

Drake said she even won a ramp cooking contest in Elkins during one of the past Ramp Festivals.

“A friend and I entered the contest,” she said. “We made beer-battered ramps with a jelly sauce. We took home a $300 prize for our entry.”

She said she personally has never gone into the woods to harvest ramps.

“But I know many people who do go out and dig them up,” Drake said. “One time, I had a pleasant surprise and found ramps in the backyard of home I owned on Pocahontas Street, but that was several years ago.”

Katie Loudin, vice president of the Upshur County Board of Education, said during the last two years, she and her family have gone out to dig ramps.

“My youngest son loves them,” she said. “He eats them as soon as we dig them!”

Along with eating raw ramps, Loudin said she likes to dry them and cook them with dinner.

“But my favorite use is turning them into ramp butter,” Loudin said. “Ramp butter goes well on bread, pasta, meat and sweet corn. I froze many jars, and we use them throughout the year. It is delicious!”

(Scroll to the end of the story to see Loudin’s Ramp Butter recipe.)

At the present time, there are quite a few people advertising ramps for sale on Facebook.

Buckhannon resident Cindy Wentz told My Buckhannon she loves ramps.

“I always looked forward to ramp dinners in Helvetia,” Wentz said. “I have relatives that came in from Ohio to go there to the dinners with us.”
Wentz said her mother was a big fan of ramp dinners, too.

“Even when my mom had cancer and was very weak, she still wanted to go to the ramp dinner,” she said. “Some of my relatives in Queens would get together and take all the fixings and dig and clean ramps, then cook them on an open fire.”

She said she also has fond memories of her in-laws and ramps.

“They were from Webster Springs and many times, they would dig and fix ramps,” Wentz said. “My dad would bring home a burlap sack full of ramps. We kept them in our cellar and always would eat them raw. As a child, I went to a one-room schoolhouse for seventh grade, and you could always tell or smell when it was ramp season.”

Mary Alice Poling, of Buckhannon, shared some memories of when she was young.

“When I was small, my sister and I lived with our maternal grandparents and they loved nothing better than to go on Sunday drives in the country,” Poling said. “They also loved a good ramp dinner. We never missed one no matter where it was.”

Poling fondly remembered one time growing up when her family was at a ramp dinner in Pickens.

“The line was like from here to Weston,” she said, laughing. “My sister was three or four years old and was tired of waiting in line and was starving. She told my grandfather she was so hungry she would even eat an egg, and she hated the whites of fried eggs, so someone recognized my grandfather when they overheard my sister, and they took us to the front of the line.”

Poling said another time, on a Sunday following church, she and her husband, Holt, along with her then three-year-old daughter, Brittany, went with Holt’s mother and her cousin and husband from Ohio to hunt ramps at Hemlock in Upshur County.

“The mountain we had to climb was steep and full of fallen trees,” Poling said. “Once we got to the top, a big thunderstorm came, and we had to run back down the hill to get into our vehicles. I was practically dragging my daughter, Brittany, and she looked up at her grandmother and said, ‘oh, grandmother, we are going to drown!’”

Poling offered a bit of friendly advice for those who are going to cook ramps – do it outdoors.

“I always cook my ramps outside on my gas grill,” she said.

Upshur County Trails volunteer Rachel Garton Weber said she did not necessarily grow up ramping but said her parents did have a ramp patch they planted when she was a child.

“My late uncle, Ed Bush, who lived in Idaho and was originally from Weston, loved ramps and he helped my parents plant their ramp patch,” Weber said. “I remember him coming to visit regularly in the spring and making it a point to find ramps to eat. My immediate family were not big fans of ramps, so I really did not eat them until I was an adult and started cooking my own food.”

Weber said she especially loves the fancy ramp dinners prepared by Chef Dale Hawkins with Fish Hawk Acres in Buckhannon.

Buckhannon resident Rachel Garton Weber poses in her parents’ ramp patch, which they planted when she was a child with the help of her late Uncle Ed Bush of Weston. Although Weber said she was not a fan of the stinky greens as a child, she grew to love them as she got older and began cooking her own meals. Weber said her favorite ramp dish involves using her friend’s ramp butter, and she likes ramps in burgers and mixed in fried potatoes. / Photo courtesy Rachel Garton Weber

“I love to see what they come up with each year,” Weber said. “I also enjoy getting ramp salt from my former co-worker Dan Messenger. Personally, I like to dig ramps. I like to see them growing in the wild and like getting outside.”

While Weber said she did not have any recipes, she really likes making ramp butter by chopping ramps and adding to softened butter with a little lemon zest, black pepper and parmesan cheese.

“I also like to add chopped ramps to ground beef for delicious burgers,” she said, “and, of course, I like to add them into fried potatoes.”

Weber said she also takes some of her ramps and dehydrates them.

“That way my husband can sprinkle them on a wide variety of dishes to enjoy!” she said.

Buck Edwards, of Buckhannon, said his family use to dig ramps along the Elk River to have on Christmas.

“We would locate the seed pods from the previous summer,” Edwards said. “I have not done this for six years now. I prefer to eat ramps when they are small and raw.”

Misty Post, who hosts the Buckhannon Events Facebook page, said her favorite part of ramp season is going to camp and digging ramps with her family.

“After being cooped up in the house all winter, it feels really good to get out and go ramp digging – and fishing,” Post said. “I also enjoy making pizza with pepperoni and ramps. Last week, I put some shrimp in a cast iron plate with a little bit of butter and garlic and threw some ramps on top. They were the best shrimp I have ever had.”

Hinchman said he sells ramps to the Donut Shop for their famous Ramparoni Rolls, and his two favorite ways of eating ramps are mixing them up with pepperoni as a snack and adding them to fried potatoes.

So, if you’re on the hunt for ramps, stop by 200 Randolph St. to see Hinchman; sample a Ramparoni Roll at the Donut Shop; or check out the selection at TJ’s Greenhouse in Horner at the bottom of Buckhannon Mountain (call 304-269-8414).

In the mood to make your own ramp butter? Here’s how:

Ramp Butter


  • 1 pound of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 6 to 8 ounces of cleaned ramps (white and green parts)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest, grated finely
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper


Trim root end and wash ramps.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and set aside a bowl with cold water and lots of ice.

Blanch the ramps for 30 seconds, then plunge them into the ice water. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible.

Allow ramps to dry on a paper towel.

Use a food processor to chop the ramps and add into a bowl with the softened butter, salt, pepper, lemon juice and lemon zest. Process until it is the texture you like. This can be rolled into logs in parchment or plastic wrap and chilled or frozen.

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