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The Elusive Springtime Plant That’s Worth a Trip to Appalachia

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It’s springtime, which means that in the eastern half of North America, ramps are sprouting on the forest hillsides, particularly in Quebec and Appalachia. But if you live west of the Mississippi River, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of this elusive member of the onion family.

Also known as wild leek, Allium tricoccum is valued for its strong smell and taste—a combination of onions and garlic—as well as its culinary versatility. Both the leaves and the bulb are edible. It kind of looks like a scallion, with green leaves, a small white bulb, and reddish or purple stems, but you’ll know a ramp by its extra-garlicky aroma and its two or three broad, rabbit ear–style leaves. It usually makes its debut in April, after the defrosting of the soil. Because ramps are one of the first veggies to emerge in spring, many consider them a folksy blessing—a sign that winter is officially over and the growing season has begun.

Foodie interest in ramps has blossomed thanks to a surge in foraging chic over the last several years: Chefs from Brooklyn to San Francisco have them shipped across states and sometimes the entire continent, to be roasted, sautéed, grilled, stewed, pickled, deep-fried, stir-fried, pizza-fied, omeletted, and served raw, among other applications. (Mario Batali is a ramp superfan—he posted this cool cooking-in-reverse video about them on his site in 2015.) Their short season—they’re only around for about six weeks per year—only adds to their cachet.

Native Americans were eating ramps, of course, long before hipster foodies got so excited about them, with many tribes using them as a diet staple for centuries. The Dakota and Winnebago tribes not only ate ramps but also treated insect bites and stings with ramp juice, while the Cheyennes poured it in their ears to relieve aches and ringing. By some accounts, even the word Chicago actually comes from the Menomini people’s word for the ramp, shika’ko, which once grew plentifully in the region.

Ramps are picky about where they grow: They need a mix of conditions (shade, cool temperatures, heavy vegetation, bark from deciduous trees, and no standing water) that can best be found in the Appalachian Mountains. They carpet the forest floor for miles between northern Alabama and Georgia and southeastern Canada, but they’re also around—if harder to find—in Maine, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. In Quebec, where ramps are sometimes known as ail des bois (garlic of the woods), the plants are so dear that commercial ramp harvesting is illegal, and there are laws limiting personal harvest. (This has created a booming market for ramp poachers.)

Legend has it that ramps are notoriously hard to cultivate. But committed gardeners can do it, even though the process takes years from seed to full-grown plant. Glen Facemire has found success at it: He and his wife, Norene, run the world’s only ramp farm in the tiny town of Richwood, rural West Virginia, and his life’s work is not only growing ramps but teaching other people to grow them and harvest them correctly. “They are wild ramps,” Glen says of his crop. “We just got them on the different side of the fence now.”

Although Glen says he has been “fooling with ramps” since he was a kid, he and Norene only learned to cultivate and maintain them through trial and error. The Facemires ship both mature ramps as well as seeds and bulbs, particularly to customers in New England, which additionally helps to combat overharvesting of the wild patches.

A sign for a ramp festival in West Virginia.
Meg van Huygen

Glen and Norene serve ramps every year at Richwood’s Feast of the Ramson, which is the largest of about a dozen ramp festivals throughout Appalachia. Richwood styles itself as the Ramp Capital of the World, and the festival serves about 2000 pounds of them annually. At this year’s event in late April, the peppery, oniony scent of ramps filled the cafeteria of the local elementary school as crowds filed in to have their trays loaded with fried potatoes, cornbread, ham, soup beans, and a pile of boiled ramps topped with strips of bacon. Mason jars of earthy, spicy sassafras root tea were on hand to wash it all down. In the evening, live musicians performed, including songwriter John Wyatt, whose “Richwood Ramp Song” is always on the set list. At the city hall and firehouse on the other side of town, ramp-themed folk art is sold, among other crafts, and people sell fresh ramps out of their trucks.

A crowd eating at a ramp festival in Richwood, West Virginia.
Stephen Allen

Richwooders are such devotees that, at one time, the town had its own Ramp King, a man named Bato Crites, so titled because he reportedly gathered ramps faster than anyone else in town, personally collecting hundreds of pounds each season. A few years ago, the Richwood News Leader even went so far as to add ramp juice to the ink of the newspaper before they printed it, which made for a stinky surprise for its readers—and for the postmaster general, which reprimanded the publishers.

Several other communities throughout the Appalachians hold yearly ramp festivals in the springtime, although they’re mostly in West Virginia, where, according to Joey Aloi of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, there are “more towns than people, and more festivals than towns.” At Stinkfest in Huntington, West Virginia, you can get ramp pesto and ramp cheddar biscuits, and at the Ramps and Rail Festival in Elkins, there’s ramp burgers, ramp chili, and ramperoni rolls—a take on the classic West Virginia pepperoni roll.

A plate of food at Richwood’s Feast of the Ramson.
Meg van Huygen

If you’re outside of ramp country, and you want to try ramps without traveling to Appalachia, you’re in luck—a number of grocers in the U.S. have them shipped in during their short season, which usually lasts through May. Farmers markets are your best bet, and select Whole Foods occasionally carry them too. But prepare to be gouged: While local ramps in West Virginia sell for about $5 a pound, they’re going for $25 a pound at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and they command upwards of $30 in spots in New York City. You can also pay $149 to have a 5-pound box shipped anywhere in the U.S. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious (and patient), you can order some seeds or bulbs from the Facemires in Richwood and try your luck in your own garden.

Just be forewarned about the smell, which—love it or hate it—will seep out of your pores for a few days afterward. As Grubstreet’s Hugh Merwin described it, “By comparison, the odor of ramps makes garlic smell like Chanel No. 5.”

All photos by Meg van Huygen except where noted.

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13 Tricks and Tips to Get the Most Out of Google Maps
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It’s hard to imagine life without Google Maps. Memorizing routes and printing out driving directions seems like a distant memory in a world where a detailed map of any location is available at a moment's notice. Still, you could be using it more. Google’s popular software is packed with secrets, tricks, and Easter eggs beyond what you might expect. Ahead of the popular tool's update later this year, here are 13 ways to get the most out of Google Maps, from one-handed use to offline location tracking.

1. CHECK WAIT TIMES AT YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT

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Before you head out for dinner, use Google Maps to see if you’re about to waste an hour standing in line. Just search for the name of the restaurant on your desktop browser or in Google Maps for iOS and Android. Then, scroll down to the Popular Times chart and select a specific time. There, you'll see how long the wait usually is at that time and make your plans accordingly.

2. SEE HOW STEEP YOUR BIKE RIDE WILL BE


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There’s nothing worse than unexpectedly hitting a big hill while riding your bike. Next time, plug your route into Google Maps and ask for biking directions. You’ll see a graph that shows the steepness of each part of your trip and be able to avoid those big inclines in the future.

3. ADD MULTIPLE DESTINATIONS TO YOUR TRIP

Google Maps typically defaults to simple point-A-to-point-B for directions, but it’s easy to add an extra stop to your trip. In a browser, press the “+” icon under your destination. On Android or iOS, tap on the three horizontal dots in the top right corner to pull up a menu and then select “Add stop.”

4. TRAVEL THROUGH TIME WITH STREET VIEW

Street View is a fun way to explore neighborhoods all over the world, but it’s also a treasure trove of old photos. Just launch Street View in your browser and click on the clock-shaped icon in the top left corner. From there, you can browse through all the pictures Google’s taken over the years for any specific spot.

5. MEASURE DISTANCE

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If you’re using Google Maps in your browser you can easily measure the distance between any two locations. Right click somewhere on the map and select “Measure Distance.” Then, click anywhere else to see how far away it is.

6. USE GOOGLE MAPS WITHOUT AN INTERNET CONNECTION

If you’re traveling and you know you won’t have any internet, you can download a map of the area ahead of time. Pull up that location in Google Maps on your phone. Then, open the settings menu and select “Offline maps” to save it. When you arrive, you’ll be able to view the map without any service and even track your location thanks to GPS.

7. SEE YOUR ENTIRE GOOGLE MAPS HISTORY

Google Maps tracks you everywhere you go, and you can pull that information up whenever you want. Head to this website to see a detailed map of all the places you’ve ever been. If that creeps you out, you can also click on “Manage Location History” to switch this feature off.

8. ZOOM IN AND OUT WITH JUST ONE FINGER

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Pinch-to-zoom works fine most of the time, but if you only have one free hand it’s not that easy to do. Thankfully, there’s another option that only requires one free finger: Tap twice on your smartphone screen and then hold your finger down on the spot you want to get a closer look at. Google Maps will zoom in, and from there you can adjust the scale by sliding your finger up and down.

9. REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED YOUR CAR

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The next time you park your car, boot up Google Maps and tap on the blue dot that shows your location. When a menu pops up, select “Set as parking location” to leave a marker on your map for later so you can easily find your car when you’re ready to leave.

10. TURN THE STREET VIEW ICON INTO A UFO

If you want to have a little fun with Pegman, the yellow Street View figure, just search for Area 51 in Google Maps. Then, grab the man-shaped icon and hover it over the map to make him transform into a flying saucer.

11. SHARE YOUR LOCATION WITH FRIENDS

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If you’re meeting a friend, this feature makes it easy for them to track you down. Open Google Maps on iOS or Android and pull up the options menu (located in the top left corner) and select “Location sharing.” From here you can decide how long to reveal your location and who to share it with.

12. MAKE A LIST OF YOUR FAVORITE SPOTS.

Google Maps makes it easy to store all your favorite restaurants (or parks or book stores) in one spot. Tap on a location and hit “Save.” Then, select “New list” and give it a name. Now, you can add new locations to your existing lists. You can also share lists with friends, and they’re even accessible when you’re offline.

13. CHECK OUT SKI ROUTES.

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Google Maps has information on almost 100 ski routes from across the United States and Canada. Head to this webpage to start planning your next ski trip.

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Chefs Launch World's Highest Pop-Up Restaurant at Mt. Everest Base Camp
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A touch of altitude sickness shouldn't stand in the way of a good meal. At least that seems to be the idea behind a plan to serve a seven-course dinner to trekkers at Everest Base Camp, the gateway for those planning to climb Mt. Everest in Nepal.

The four chefs leading this trip hope it will land them a new Guinness World Record for the highest pop-up restaurant on the planet, according to Architectural Digest. At the end of May, the chefs will take 10 people on an eight-day trek from the town of Lukla (at an altitude of about 10,000 feet) to Everest Base Camp (at 11,600 feet), all while foraging along the way for ingredients that can be incorporated into the meal. (For a true luxury experience, guests also have the option of traveling by helicopter.) The full package of flights, accommodations, and meals costs about $5600 per person.

After reaching their destination, trekkers will get to sit back and enjoy a feast, which will be served inside a tent to protect diners against the harsh Himalayan winds. Indian chef Sanjay Thakur and others on his team say they want to highlight the importance of sustainability, and the money they raise will be donated to local charities. Thakur said most of the food will be cooked sous vide, which allows vacuum-packed food to be cooked in water over a long period of time.

"The biggest challenge, of course, will be the altitude, which will affect everything," Thakur tells Fine Dining Lovers. "Flavor [perception] will be decreased, so we will be designing a menu of extraordinary dishes accordingly, where spices will have the upper hand."

This isn't the first time an elaborate meal will be served at Everest Base Camp, though. According to Fine Dining Lovers, another chef launched a pop-up at the same spot in 2016, but it presumably wasn't registered with the Guinness Book of World Records. Other extreme restaurants include one carved into a limestone cliff in China, one dangling 16 feet above the ground in a rainforest in Thailand, and one submerged 16 feet below sea level in the Maldives.

[h/t Architectural Digest]

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