A question in the original version of Trivial Pursuit, Genus Edition, asked: ''Which of the five senses is most closely related to memory?''
I know the answer is the sense of smell. This was proven to me once summer day when I was transplanting a bunch of the herb, tansy, into the herb garden.
Although I read a lot about tansy, I never grew it until the spring I found it at the herb farm. I bought a couple plants and took them home, but it wasn't until I popped the first plant out of its container that I got a whiff of its camphor-like scent. I was instantly transported to my grandparents' garden.
This was a scent from my childhood. It reminded me of playing in my grandmother's flowers, walking through the field adjacent to their house picking wildflowers, searching for wild strawberries to snack on or the tender young leaves of what we used to call ''chow chow,'' which I later discovered was garden sorrel.
There is no shortage of pleasant fragrances emanating from the gardens, the fields and the woods in spring. We no sooner get past the hyacinth explosion than lilac, crabapple, apple and cherry blossoms start filling the air with perfume.
And then, as if in direct response to the sweetness in the atmosphere, along comes the pungent odor of another spring arrival, Allium tricoccum, otherwise known as ramps. Along with the emergence of the plant comes its many admirers, foragers and culinary experts in the field of ramp cuisine. You know who you are.
While I associate the fragrance of tansy and other herbs with my grandmother, it was certainly the pungency of ramps that brought back memories of the older male relatives in my family. The men seemed to bask in the aroma of the wild leek, even as the women were repelled by it. While my family was not from the Appalachian area of West Virginia, home of the NRA (National Ramp Association), where ramps are not only welcomed in early spring but are honored with festivals and parades, my predecessors were from southern Pennsylvania, which is close enough.
Ramps, also called wild leeks, are a member of the lily family of plants, as are onions, leeks and garlic. The flavor of ramps is described as a combination of all three. The plant is native to North America and grows wild in the wooded mountains and valley areas from Canada all the way to South Carolina.
It is believed that the city of Chicago got its name from the wild leek, which permeated the countryside near the mouth of the Chicago River. The word, some historians believe, was adapted by the French from a Native American word attributed to the smelly plants.
One of the first edible plants to emerge in spring, ramps are believed to thin the blood and provide the first of the vital nutrients absent during winter due to the lack of fresh food. They are also believed to help relieve symptoms of the common cold, although I think it probably works because the odor forces people to avoid each other.
The bulb is a bit larger than a scallion and the leaves are broad and smooth. Any doubt about plant identification can be relieved by simply pulling one up and giving it a sniff. If it clears your sinuses, it's probably a ramp.
Eating raw ramps is not for the meek, but people still do it. The leaves also are edible although more mild in flavor than the bulbs. They can be chopped and stored in bags in the freezer to use ramp season has ended. Use sparingly because it doesn't take much to flavor a dish.
Scramble eggs with chopped ramp leaves and asparagus for a flavorful breakfast or toss a few whole, clean ramps, including the leaves, in with the beef roast. There are recipes available on Internet sites and a simple search will reveal a lot of ways to use this stinky, but tasty spring vegetable.