The Forks blog

The Ramp Dinner at Olde St. John's

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on

04262014graveyard

On a windy, pretty spring day that teeter-tottered between sunshine and clouds, warm and put-your-jacket-back-on, the graveyard around Olde St. John's Episcopal Church was perfumed with the smell of cooking ramps.

04262014pewsThe church, on a ridge near the village of Colliers, W.Va., about 35 miles west of Pittsburgh, was founded in around 1793, which makes the current brick colonial structure the new building. It was built in 1849 and still has its original cherry floors and box pews.

The people of the church keep it going with fundraisers throughout the year, most of them involving food.

Today, as announced the sign out front, was the spring Ramp Dinner.

Darcy Riggs helped organize the feed, with her sisters, her mom, her cousins. As she told me about her relatives, "We're half the church. And the rest is church family."

04262014signThey also hold a June strawberry festival, spaghetti nights in the fall and at Valentine's (when "we serve you," a woman said), and of course there's also food on the day they all bring in their heirloom quilts to display in the church. 

As Darcy put it, "We're all cooks. We just love people to eat."

They not only cooked all the beans and the cornbread and the fried potatoes (the ramps were in them, with bacon), but also dug up the ramps, or wild leeks, from a secret spot in the wooded hills that they take great care to sustain. The ramps were late this year, and so Darcy and her family were getting worried, but some of them went out yesterday morning and came back with enough extras that they had baskets of them on one table, and beautiful fat ramps to decorate the display of gift baskets they were raffling off. 04262014ramps
The dinner cost $7, and for $1 each extra you could get a slice of ham, a drink and/or a dessert. A big bearded guy in a John Deere hat greeted people as they entered the church hall, checked off each order on a paper slip and handed it to the kitchen, where 04262014ladiesDarcy (in the middle of the photo) and her sister Valerie (at right) and other volunteers (such as Janet Caprarese at left) dished the dinners out. 

04262014dinner

Early yesterday, they sold a lot of take-out orders, Darcy said, especially to gas-well guys from down state.

Around 5 p.m., my family found a corner at one of the checked-clothed long tables, decorated with artificial forsythia and sheaves of wheat. My son fished a can of soda from icy tub and I poured my wife and I two foam cups of sweet tea, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meals, which my wife garnished with some of the pungent chopped bright-green ramp leaves. Seeing on the table full of cakes and brownies that there were only two servings of rhubarb cobbler left, I took one. 
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Around us, neighbors chatted and laughed. They hugged each other hello and hugged each other goodbye.

"Nice to see you, honey." 

"Thanks for coming."

HUG.

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Sweet sausage and ramp sandwiches were $3.50.

Through the hall's open back door, in blew the almost-cold air and the sounds of children (including, eventually, our son) playing amongst tombstones dating back to the 1700s.

One marked the spot of Isaih Nicholls, who died on July 30, 1832, at the age of 28. The stone reads:

04262014stoneTraveler Stop as you Pass by, 

As you are now so once was I, 

As I am now so you must be, 

Prepare for Death and follow me. 

My wife and I walked from stone to stone, moving from patches of sunshine to chills and back, and later mused that even the dead at Olde St. John's had to have been in a good mood on this day, what with the smell of those ramps and the sounds of those children playing and laughing on bright-green grass that is thick with purple violets. 

"This is like our memories, when we were little," said Darcy Riggs, who used to be one of those kids playing outside while hers and the other mothers were inside the church, feeding people.

We thanked them for the food, and they thanked us for coming, and we drove back down the hill and down the winding road back to Route 22 and back to Pittsburgh, glad we'd traveled to the Ramp Dinner at Olde St. John's Episopal Church.

04262014darcy

Bob Batz Jr. photos


 






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