When the bloodroot blooms

pickled ramps in a jar

He always taught me to look for the signs. He also impressed into my young mind the limitless power of books, but he always reminded me to live in the moment and look for the signs. ‘When the bloodroot blooms and peach trees blush to the sun is when we’ll dig.’ And he was never wrong.

There be a tradition of sorts with many of the mountain folk when spring comes rolling in. After months of canned goods stored away last summer and the last of the cured meat was set on the supper table, the souls of Southern Appalachia were ready for fresh green food. The meadows provided things like henbit, deadnettle, violets, while other places provided morels, fresh poke, and wild onions. Yet the most favored spring foraged food was the wild ramp. And to be honest with y’all, there really ain’t nothing quite like it.

wild blooms

Now, as long as that man was in my life, he always had bad knees and walking weren’t ever the easiest for him. But he would gather all us youngins (from the littles to the bigs) into the back of that old El Camino, have Old Rube pack us all a picnic lunch, and off we would go. Up into the highest mountains, beyond the land of cracked asphalt and one pump fillin’ stations, back into the hills where the mountain touched the sky. That old El Camino went places nary any person with sense should venture to, but luckily Papaw didn’t need things making sense.

The knowledge of what to look for was passed on from big youngins to little youngins and Papaw threatened the switch to any older youngins that weren’t patient with the littles. He stayed with Mamaw as she set up for lunch while the youngins were left to explore the hollers and little ole mountain branches in search of wild ramps.

The mountainsides were still fairly bare from their winter sleep and the blossoms of the bloodroot sparkled like snow on the forest floor. Here and there, poking their little green heads out of years of settled leaves would sit our springtime desire. Carefully, we’d dig up the roots and place them in our bags before moving on to another patch.

colander of ramp

With our sacks full, we would scramble back to where Old Rube and Papaw would have a fire going and that she would have the skillet already hot with the taters chopped and ready to fry. There are meals that live on in infamy within one’s mind, and I can assure you that simple plate of warm ham, fried taters with ramps, cornbread and butter, with a piece of raw ramp and salt will live on in my soul forever. 

Each year I alone wander back up that old mountain to carry on a tradition of happiness in search of the wild ramp. each year the ramps are gathered, the fire built, and the taters fried in that same old iron skillet. And each year, my soul twitches in excitement just a bit when the bloodroot blooms and the peach trees blush to the sun.

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