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A Refreshing Knapp – Spring sprouting all around (March 25, 2015 issue)

Spring has sprung and the Grass has risen
With winter barely over it’s hard to realize that Easter will be here the first Sunday after we flip the calendar page from March to April. Of course the first day of spring was last Friday, but the unofficial and most recognized day for spring is Easter Sunday.
Once upon a time – in my earlier lifetime, and still, to a lesser extent today, every female had to have a new outfit for Easter. It’s not been that long ago when the song whose lyrics: “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade,” actually meant something. Back then most women donned their new hats and bonnets, and off to church they would go—wearing it, and their new Easter outfit. You couldn’t see the preacher over the sea of new bonnets and hats.
A lot of things change over the years as seasons come and go. But I think a majority of people still welcome spring above all other seasons, especially after a cold barren winter like the one we just experienced. It’s cheering to see the rebirth of flowers, leaves, and even the green grass, that will keep a lot of people busy cutting during the next few months; listening to the birds singing; and even swatting at some pesky mosquitoes that somehow survive to bite us during the warm months. All in all, it’s a good time of the year, and a time to celebrate the season with festivals.
Some spring festivals, unique to the Appalachians, start early. The first one to kick off the spring season is the Peter Hollow Egg Fight which normally takes place on Easter Sunday over on Stoney Creek in Peter Hollow – just outside of Elizabethton. To me it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s been going on since 1823, so I’m not going to go against tradition, after all there may be some (as yet unrevealed) scientific reasons for determining whose boiled egg has the hardest shell.
The next one is the Flag Pond Ramp Festival that occurs the 2nd Saturday in May. When I was first invited, I kept looking for ramps – which I assumed daredevils ran skate boards or motorcycles up and down. Instead there was this wild, onion like plant, with a distinct, powerful and most unpleasant aroma which was added to a variety of foods to enhance their flavor. They also enhance your breath in a dramatic (some say abominable) way.
The smell is disregarded by local mountaineers as after long winters, ramps are used by them as a spring tonic. They are filled with vitamin C and other valuable vitamins and minerals. Ramps cleanse the blood and all innard parts associated with it. For these reasons this plant is honored with its own festival.
The Strawberry Festival over in Unicoi, the following weekend, wraps up the local spring festivals and another season is on our doorsteps.
Before leaving spring behind, I would like to mention some other spring plants that are prized around this area. Branch lettuce grows in abundance along mountain streams and is used in much the same way as romaine lettuce. It goes well with ramps. I’ve tasted cornbread salad containing branch lettuce and ramps, seasoned with a little grated cheese and ranch dressing that would rival any New York Chef’s Salad. Or, I suppose – not having been there.
Then there are other wild green plants that in general were used by our grandparents for an early mess of greens: Polk…everyone has heard of Polk salad, but few have recently tried the leaves of sorrel, dandelions, or chicory, which by the way tastes something like spinach, and was eaten by our grandparents – and also by a brand new group of people called Appalachian Trail Hikers.
It’s hard to quit talking about the beauty and qualities of springtime, but I’ve got to take the rotor-tiller and lawn mower down to the shop for a tune up. There’s a garden to plant and a yard that will need mowing before long.