A little story about… ramps

The preparation date for this column is April 22 but I have no idea when it will be printed. I mention this as the subject is Spring in the West Virginia mountains. Everything is in bloom, red bud, dogwood, Japanese cherry, other cherry, apple, and a host of other things including-ramps! Yes ramps!

To the uneducated, ramps are wild onions that spring forth at this time of year in many spots within our state. They are supposed to be a mountain delicacy and many chew away and enjoy. Me? I stay far away from them, and anyone eating or who has eaten them recently.

Onions smell bad, and remain on one’s breath for a long time. But, ramps? They stick to you for an eternity. I don’t want anyone who has eaten ramps around me or in my house for days. The fragrance does linger and it isn’t roses.

One of our major mountain counties, Nicholas, has an abundance of ramps and the city of Ravenswood, located there, has a ramp festival each year. Yesterday, one of our Charleston papers had a story on page one of a Nicholas resident who was selling ramps along the road near Charleston. There are ramp roadside stands in many places.

This guy is not only selling ramps but is selling a new product-ramp salt! I guess he reeked of the ramp smell as he professed to be a great ramp eater. He was selling the ramp salt to people who want the taste of ramps but don’t want to smell like them for days. People sell bushels and bushels of ramps and now I guess they will be selling boxes and boxes of ramp salt.

I have a story to tell you about ramps. The late Jim Comstock, a man who could arguably be called West Virginia’s leading booster while alive, hailed from the aforementioned town of Richwood. He was a book writer, book collector, West Virginia historian, lecturer, newspaper writer, editor and publisher, museum owner and a host of other things. One of his newspapers was the statewide West Virginia Hillbilly that was the largest weekly in the state for a number of years. It contained a bit of mountain philosophy, mountain tales, historical stuff and some news ‘round and about our hills and valleys. He had more ideas than a dozen other men and was always trying something different.

During Spring a few years back Jim decided to mix ramps and his newspaper. He took a bit of ramp juice (quite a bit actually) and mixed it with the ink that would be used to print the next “Hillbilly.” It worked well, almost too well. Things went just fine during the printing and during the circulation from the print shop in Richwood and they left there a few at a time.

Since it was a statewide publication most of the papers had to be mailed and by far the largest majority had to come to the Charleston Post Office for distribution. When the trucks hit the post office with several thousand papers the questions started, “What’s that smell?” It got so bad officials began to track it down and didn’t have much trouble when they came to the newspapers. The post office now reeked with that pungent smell.

Soon, Comstock’s phone was ringing off the hook. How could you do such a thing? We can’t stand the smell! Etc. Friend Jim almost lost his mailing permit over that episode. This single issue was the one and only that contained ramp flavored printer’s ink. Good idea. Bad result!

Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my West Virginia home!