A Taste of Spring: Rainbow & Ramps Festival2.27.2015
Spring is stirring in Cherokee. The days are growing longer and brighter as nature shakes off the frost of winter, ready to embrace warmer days ahead. In town, there is a hum of excitement as preparations are made for the annual Rainbow and Ramps Festival taking place on March 28th, from 10:30 am to 2 pm.
The Rainbow and Ramps Festival is a popular springtime celebration, represented by two seasonal delicacies: rainbow trout and ramps—regional wild leeks that are a member of the lily family and grow in the mountains. Ramps are prized for their pungent flavor, described as a cross between garlic and onion, and while they’ve become popular in recent years by foodies in the south and beyond, they have deep roots—literally—in Cherokee culture.
More Than a Plant
For more than 12,000 years the Cherokee people have been the original gatherers of ramps, ceremoniously harvesting the young tips, and carefully leaving the roots intact so that the plants can continue to grow. In addition to having deeper meaning for the Cherokee, ramps were also used for medicinal purposes, valued for their high levels of vitamin C and antibiotic properties.
At the Rainbow and Ramps Festival, when the ramps are at their peak on the Qualla Boundary, Cherokees gather to eat, play games, listen to regional music, and pay tribute to their elders. Back by popular demand, this year’s festival will also include an all ages Horseshoe Tournament with sign ups available at the Cherokee Welcome Center, and first pitch at 10 am. The ticket price for the Rainbow and Ramps meal is $10 and includes ramps, and other seasonal vegetables, as well as trout caught from the crystal-clear waters in Cherokee.
Celebrating Fishing Season
Although Cherokee trout fishing is permitted throughout the year with a permit, the Rainbow and Ramps festival symbolizes the start of the fishing season. Each year the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management stocks 30 miles of pristine mountain streams with nearly 400,000 varieties of trout, including rainbow, brook, and brown trout, making it easy to catch fish—up to ten per day, per permit. In the last weekend in March, (March 27th-29), the Cherokee Cast into Spring Tournament offers the chance to win between $25 to $5000 cash prizes for tagged fish. A permit can be easily purchased and must be carried at all times when fishing in Cherokee.
If fishing’s not your thing, the Rainbow and Ramps Festival is a fantastic way to get a taste of Cherokee, and to learn more about the traditions around the food and the festival. One thing is certain: the line might be long, but it’s always worth the wait. We hope to see you there!