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Stalking the Wild Molly Moocher...

Remember Euell Gibbons, spokesman for Grape Nuts cereal and author of books such as "Stalking the Wild Asparagus"? Gibbons also stalked other wild foods, such as molly moochers (gourmets know them as the highly prized morel mushrooms) and ramps, the very pungent green that is a relative of the onion.

Dave Bailey with Molly Moocher Mabel Brown in the Ramp Patch Behind her Home

Ramps, allium tricoccum, are wild leeks. Thriving throughout the Appalachian range in rich, dark woodlands near mountain streams, ramps are among the first edible foods to appear in the early spring, when they pierce the gray and brown leaf mold with a spire of tightly furled, onion-scented leaves. Throughout the Appalachian South, ramps are hailed with feasting at ramp suppers and festivals. The most famous of these community fundraisers include the Ramp Festival at Cosby, Tenn., and the Feast of the Ramson in Richwood, W. Va., home of the National Ramp Association.

Ramps are the stuff of lore. An aphorism says, "Ramps are not for ladies or those who court them," and in "The Easter Onion," a poem by Johnny Russell, the ramp season is romantically remembered. Here is the first stanza: "Years gone by, still they gather/Tribute to a heritage, gloried past/Easter onions, in Appalachia called ramps/Family, friends, people from far and wide."

Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia incorporates 679 excerpts from original sound recordings and 1,256 photographs from the American Folklife Center's Coal River Folklife Project (1992-99) documenting traditional uses of the mountains in Southern West Virginia's Big Coal River Valley. Functioning as a de facto commons, the mountains have supported a way of life that for many generations has entailed hunting, gathering, and subsistence gardening, as well as coal mining and timbering. The online collection is from American Memory.

You can learn much more about America’s unique food traditions by going to the American Memory Collection Finder Search page and typing in the word “foodways” in the search box at the top.

A. "Dave Bailey with Molly Moocher," Bradley Mountain, Edwight, W. Va. 1990 photo by Mary Hufford, Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Reproduction information: Call No.: AFC 1999/008 CRF-MH-C086-02; Digital ID: afccmns mhc08602

B. "Mabel Brown in the Ramp Patch Behind her Home," Drews Creek, W. Va. 1997 photo by Lyntha Scott Eiler. Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Reproduction information: Call No.: AFC 1999/008 CRF-LE-C213-02; digital ID: afccmns lec21302