In April, state folklorist Emily Hilliard documented the Helvetia Ramp Supper as part of a year-long oral history project with the Southern Foodways Alliance. She wrote about her experience for the SFA blog, excerpted here.
The last Friday in April, I drove along the Buckhannon River through the village of Helvetia, West Virginia to the coat of arms-adorned community hall in the center of town. Though I’ve been visiting the Swiss-German community for five years now— first as a tourist, then as a journalist, and now as a folklorist— this was my first time here in the spring. Having previously contended with whiteout blizzards just to make it to the 59-resident town perched in a high mountain valley, I was struck by how lush and alive everything seemed. Spring ephemerals dotted the roadsides, locals were out walking and doing yard work, and the distinctively pungent smell of ramps wafted out from the kitchen of the hall.
Ramp suppers are common in communities across West Virginia in the springtime, often held as fundraisers for local organizations. Here in Helvetia the annual event benefits the Community Hall Association and the Farm Women’s Club. With a place-based history enduring much longer than the current urban chef ramp trend, ramp suppers in the mountain state are a homespun community effort, officially dating back at least 75 years. I’ve eaten my fair share of ramps, but having lived in West Virginia for only six months, I’d never been to a ramp supper, nor witnessed its preparations. My host, Dave Whipp, had prepped me in an email prior to my arrival…
Read on via the Southern Foodways Alliance.