Ramped and ready: The Haywood County Ramp Festival celebrates nearly a century of flavor love

Redolent: Call them what you will, but the full flavor of ramps is sure to add some oomph to any dish. Max Cooper
Redolent: Call them what you will, but the full flavor of ramps is sure to add some oomph to any dish. Max Cooper

If the mountain breeze smells a bit more pungent than usual, there's a good reason why.

“The smell of ramps is in the air,” proclaims Ginger Reece as she prepares for the Haywood County Ramp Festival. The veterans at the American Legion host the annual celebration, honoring the garlic-scented plant that grows wild throughout the mountains.

The day of festivities includes a buffet of ramp-laden delights, including country ham and scrambled eggs. Foraging fans from Haywood County and beyond turn out in the hundreds for bluegrass music, clogging performances, craft booths, kids' games, vendors and a car show. One of the days' highlights: a raw ramp-eating contest.

Why the big to-do for such a small plant? “It's been something that's been with our heritage for years and years, a lot of the mountain folk,” Reece says. “We just seem to know what they are and enjoy them.”

In preparation for the event, the veterans at the American Legion go ramp-digging. They have a secret ramp patch that they visit every year. Six diggers can fetch about 80 pounds per trip. “There's tons of them here,” Reece says. “You just have to know where to get them and what they look like.”

In recent years, ramps have appeared with increasing frequency on restaurant tables, but in Haywood County, they've been officially commemorated for about 80 years. This years' event benefits the American Legion.

The Haywood County Ramp Festival takes place on Sunday, May 5, from noon until the ramps run out at the American Legion Ballfield, 171 Legion Drive in Waynesville. Admission costs $8 in advance or $10 at the gate and includes a meal (ramp-free hamburgers and hot dogs will be available). There's also a meal-less ticket option for $6. For tickets and more information, call the American Legion at 456-8691.

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