May 9, 2004

Ramps 101

Today my huge family went on its annual ramping adventure. Don't know what ramps are? Wild, wild onions. It is kind of an odd tradition, but we love it. We all convoy up to a park and climb "the mountain" to pick them--they have a leafy top and a bulbuous bottom--onions. And they smell--BAD.

Think domesticated onions smell terribly? Try ramps. I won't go near my aunts and uncles for a week. My hands reek from handling them.

After we pick them, we clean them in a creek that parallels the road. My little cousins wade around in the water, their pants needing at least three cycles of Tide. I have been doing this all 18 years of my life, but I am more of a bystander to the water antics now. I used to get just as muddy, mud and rocks sloshing around in my shoes, making sucking noises that I liked to laugh at.

More than picking onions (odd as it seems), this is a family tradition that has transcended five generations. My great grandmother, Jean (I am named after her--Amanda Jean Marie), started it. I heard that she picked ramps into her 60s. It has become an initiation into the "clan". If you feel really strong about someone romatically, you take them ramp picking--the ultimate test of relationships. We are candid. Real. Loud. These prospective mates really get to know "the family" without the usual pleasantries of other settings.

The best part is that we make a new set of memories each year. For example, one year, I got lost--incredibly lost and was saved by a man in the woods. The experience inspired a short story for my high school literature class. My aunt locked her keys in the car. We dammed up the creek one year. A deer came within ten yards of my aunt. My cousin, Daniel, caught a crayfish. I scared my grandpap so badly driving him home 35 mph--he is such a SLOW DRIVER (I thought he was going to puke or hyperventilate). My mom started a time capsule.

Time capsule? My mom has a jar, she changed it this year to a bigger one, that she places in the ground with pictures, coins of the years we have visited, and most precious--notes from us. We have news records of the year both on a world scale and within the family. We also write individual letters to our future family. Then we seal it up in the glass container, put it in a garbage bag and put it back to be opened the next year. The best part is when we dig it up each year. Is it still there? Did anyone find it? My mom put our address on the inside so that if anyone finds it, they can send it back to us.

And while you are thinking that this is the oddest tradition ever, I have read that many other people do the same thing.

However, the practice is also illegal in most parks....Dang. :-D My family the onion-picking outlaws. How romantic.

Oh yeah. How do you pick a ramp? You can either grab it by the leaves and pull very gently or you can cut it out of the soft spring soil, very carefully to avoid cutting off the smelly root.

How do you prepare them? Clean off all the chunk from the ground: dirt, snails *ewww*, leaves, and mud, and gently swish them around in the creek. Then cut off the leafy stems.

How do you eat them? I don't. My hands still stink from them. I can't imagine my entire mouth smelling like that. Too wild. Most of my relatives eat them on hotdogs or hamburgers, but my Aunt Debbie eats them raw, throwing the stems over her shoulder at the picnic table. You have to be careful walking behind her. hehe.

Though many of my cousins are getting married, they are still coming. While I don't see marriage and a family in the near future for myself, someday I hope to be 70 climbing the hill with my grandchildren. When I think of that, I just smile. There's so much life to live--so many ramps to be picked.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at May 9, 2004 10:28 PM

What's wrong with snails?? Haven't you ever tried escargot?

Haha, glad you have a tradition your family revels in--we have something like that on a smaller scale, I suppose. Nothing as intimate as onion picking, but truly a family experience. :^)

Posted by: Karissa at May 9, 2004 10:33 PM

Never tried escargot. I thought I was going to die when I ate shrimp for the first time. Not that the taste really makes me sick, but I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time--my first trip to Sea World was the inspiration. What a cool job, you get to ride around on dolphins and orcas all day. And the aquariums! How can someone eat them...I think I became a full-blown animal rights activist after that on a very small scale. I mean, I was 7 years old. I didn't think picketing outside my local Red Lobster was in my dare range.

Posted by: Amanda at May 10, 2004 9:34 AM

I had no idea that ramps existed... My family used to pick huckleberries and blackberries in the woods near our house. My gram and sisters could pick buckets. I mostly sat and ate them. Oh well. Yours sounds like a much nicer family event. :)

Posted by: Julie at May 10, 2004 11:00 PM

It is nice, but we like picking blackberries in late July too. My grandma likes to freeze them, but she gets about a quarter of what we actually pick. My cousins and I really love them. ;-)

Posted by: Amanda at May 10, 2004 11:23 PM

I think I need to take a break from throwing rocks and learn more about this "family picking" tradition. We don't have anything that grows in abundance near my house other than trees. Tree picking? Nah, sounds far too strenuous. ;^)

Posted by: Karissa at May 11, 2004 11:28 AM

Along with the deer close by experience . . . my family doesn't do mass picking of anything :( but we do head out to the wild every year right after the leaves change. (My mom went into labor with my sister on one such occasion) Anyway . . . one year three deer burst out of no where and charge through the family. One of them actually jumped over my younger sister. It was weird. I had thought it really rare, but I guess not. :D

Posted by: Diana at May 11, 2004 2:11 PM

My Aunt Michelle had a deer jump through her beautiful picture window in her house. It ran into my cousin's bedroom and started thrashing around. Sound unreal? She was on the news for it. Animal control had to be called in to tranquilize it. Very traumatic for my cousin whose room was demolished. My mom, sis, and I went to clean up the blood all over the walls. The deer got cut on something glass in his room.

Posted by: Amanda at May 11, 2004 5:24 PM
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