If you’re new to West Virginia – either as a resident or a visitor – there are some discoveries you’ve probably already made: the friendly people, beautiful scenery and the state’s rich history. But here are 10 perhaps lesser-known things that might be helpful to know if you’re going to spend time in the Mountain State.
1. The hot dog is its own food group.
West Virginians are serious about their hot dogs, and WV is home to an unusually large number of hot dog businesses. These include decades-old, family-owned, drive in or traditional eateries that showcase everything a West Virginia hot dog should be!. There’s even an annual Hot Dog Festival, held the last Saturday each July in Huntington, WV. The festival features entertainment, rides, wiener dog races, and of course hot dogs from vendors from across the state.
A true West Virginia hot dog is a creation that begins with a wiener on a bun. Add mustard and a rich meat sauce, then top it off with coleslaw and chopped onions. And don’t call it chili - chili has beans. It’s "hot dog sauce!"
2. Coal is still king here.
Coal has a rich history in West Virginia, and West Virginians - many whose dads, grandfathers, and great grandfathers may have all worked the mines - are fiercely proud of that. While recent years have seen a decline in demand, coal contributed significantly to the progress and wellbeing of West Virginians since it was first discovered in what is now Boone County. It was discovered in 1742 by Peter Salley, more than a century before West Virginia became a state. There are now coal crafts, memorials to lost coal miners, and a Coal Festival held in Madison, WV each June.
3. You need to know what a ramp is. (No, you don't drive on it.)
This much-celebrated, pungent-smelling plant is a species of wild onion widespread across eastern Canada and the eastern United States. They are highly sought-after in the Mountain State. They taste stronger than a leek, which generally has a mild onion flavor, and are more pungently garlicky than a scallion. Ramp season is short, therefore quantities are limited. They're typically foraged, like truffles, lending a "thrill of the hunt" excitement to them. They're one of the first vegetables to emerge from the defrosting soil after a long winter, so in early Spring you can typically find pop-up stands in WV with people selling their bounty. There are cookbooks and websites dedicated to the ramp. They are so popular that the town of Richwood, WV, holds an annual ramp festival every April. It has been dubbed the "Feast of the Ramson." Richwood's nickname is "The Ramp Capital of the World."
4. Buggies are not always horse drawn.
In Britain, it’s a trolley. In most parts of the US it’s a shopping cart, or simply a cart. But in West Virginia it’s a "buggy." Go to any store in the Mountain State and you can typically hear them call out over the PA system: "We need buggies brought in!"
5. Have you ever heard of a "pig in a poke?"
If you come to WV, you might want to make sure you know what a "poke" is: a paper bag! To this day you can still hear WV old-timers use the word poke. Example: "Get you a poke off the porch there and go pick you some ramps." Back in the day, a "poke" could be used not only for carrying items from one place to another, but also to start a fire, cover a textbook or even wrap gifts. Or to put over the head of the occasional unattractive relative.
6. June 20th is a holiday.
This is a date so important that West Virginians celebrate it like their own birthdays. It is the date that West Virginia gained statehood in 1863. The 35th state to be admitted to the Union, West Virginia was one of two added to the nation during the administration of Abraham Lincoln. West Virginia has been well described as the "most southern of the northern, the most northern of the southern, the most western of the eastern, and the most eastern of the western states."
7. Hunting: it's a big deal here.
It's such a big deal that some school districts even give kids the week of Thanksgiving off.
8. Black bears aren't always furry.
While the black bear is the West Virginia state animal (and you can certainly see the occasional black bear in more rural areas of the state), if you hear someone talking about the "Black Bears" in WV these days, they may well be referring to the Minor League Baseball team based in Granville, West Virginia. The team began playing in 2015 as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is a source of Mountaineer pride, and plays at Monongalia County Ballpark, which is across the Monongahela River from Morgantown and West Virginia University.
9. Heed the call of the Mountaineer!
If you happen to be out and about and hear someone yell "Let’s gooo!", the only appropriate response is "Mountaineers!" Of course.
10. Don't call It soda.
If you go to West Virginia and order a "soda" or "soft drink," you might just get a funny look or two. Most West Virginians know the sweet, fizzy, refreshing drink as "pop." The story goes that "pop" got its name in the early days from the sound made when you removed the cork from a bottle of...well, pop.
11. Pepperoni rolls are the best thing this side of (almost) heaven.
For the uninitiated, a pepperoni roll is exactly what it sounds like: pepperoni baked into a roll. The first pepperoni rolls were sold by Giuseppe "Joseph" Argiro at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, which is still there and worth a visit. Pepperoni rolls were originally a staple in coal miners’ lunch buckets, because they didn’t require refrigeration. There are sliced pepperoni rolls, stick pepperoni rolls, and pepperoni rolls with different types of cheese. Look for a restaurant that covers them in sauce. Order one with a "pop."
Those are just some of the West Virginia-isms and quirky West Virginia facts that will be helpful to keep in mind, the next time you have the pleasure of exploring the Mountain State. Have any to add? Let us know in the comments!