2 cups ramp cornmeal
½ tsp. salt
1 – 1 ½ cup milk or buttermilk
Heat oven to 425. Mix wet and dry ingredients together. Pour into oiled iron skillet. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown.
I got this recipe last summer when I visited Beverly Whitehead at the Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association (SMNPA) in Stecoah, inGraham County. For almost a decade now, this little non-profit group has been working with Western North Carolina farmers to grow and market commercial crops of ramps, a wild leek that is native to the Southern Appalachians.
Long before Columbus, the local Cherokee Indians used ramps as a seasoning and medicine. In many mountain communities, ramps are still a popular ingredient in fried potatoes, cornbread, eggs, and other dishes.
Beverly told me that this recipe comes from one of her group’s local board members. He told her that it dates back to 1835. The recipe makes a flat cornpone that is very traditional in that part of the mountains.
You can find that recipe and another for ramp cornbread on every package of the SMNPA’s “Cornmeal with Ramps.” They’re part of the group’s strategy to develop value-added agricultural products based on native plants. The idea is to replace the income that farmers used to get from tobacco. It’s also important, Beverly told me, to find native crops, like ramps, that can be grown in an ecologically responsible manner on mountainsides, because reservoirs have flooded so much of the best farmland in that part of Western North Carolina. Currently, the SMNPA works with more than 70 ramp growers, more than half of them Cherokee.
In cooperation with NC State, the SMNPA is also experimenting with growing other native plants commercially, including ginseng and bloodroot.
You can buy SMNPA’s cornmeal with ramps and other native plant products at the Stecoach Valley Cultural Arts Center’s gift shop in Stecoah or by calling the Association at (828) 479-8788 . You can also learn more about the SMNPA at www.smnpa.org.