Thousands show up for the Mushroom Festival
By J. Chambless
The crowd showed up early and filled streets for the entire weekend. (Photo by Chris Barber)
Weeks ahead of the 34th annual Mushroom Festival last weekend, event coordinator Kathi Lafferty was holding her breath, remembering the rain that cancelled the second day of last year’s festival.
Days ahead this year, in the wake of a hurricane lumbering up the east coast of the United States, there was a chance of light showers around the time of the kickoff parade on Friday night. But as the 6 p.m. start time rolled around, the light raindrops ceased, and for the rest of the weekend, it was clear sailing.
Starting promptly at the top of the hour, the parade rolled through town from the east to the west end of Kennett Square. It was a low-key and laid-back affair, with most of the participants from local organizations, including a gigantic turnout from Mary D. Lang Kindergarten. Spectators and marchers greeted each other warmly throughout the evening, dining along the parade route, and dancing to live music into the night.
By Saturday morning, the crowd started to arrive almost an hour before the official opening at 10 a.m. By mid-morning, State Street was packed with visitors, vendor tents, food booths and entertainment from Garfield on the west to Willow on the east.
An estimated 220 vendors attracted buyers who appeared ready to buy unique items – things like fancy baked dog treats and dip mixes for on-site tasting. Many of the vendors has products they had created by hand, such as wooden toys, furniture converted from old pianos, and hand-blown glass figurines by Kimya Williams of New Garden.
It was obvious that visitors came with their appetites.
The lines were longest at the food booths, especially at the station of Talula’s Table restaurant, which had been featured on Philadelphia TV just a week earlier. But Talula’s wasn’t the only one that stayed popular throughout the festival: La Verona, Grain, Lily, Buona Foods fried mushrooms and all the rest just kept dishing it out for two days straight.
Portabello’s chef Brett Hulbert reported that people were gobbling up his signature crab-stuffed mushrooms in record numbers.
Even the folks who were selling bowls of homemade mushroom soup at the Masonic Lodge reported sales so high that they would likely be able to fund their annual Kennett and Unionville high schools’ scholarship awards this year from $500 to $1,000, because of their record-setting success.
This year, Lafferty moved all the children’s entertainment and activities to the west end of town. That included not only bungee jumping, but a new event: A zip line. Kids (and some adults) eagerly lined up to experience the thrill of sailing through the air, if only for a few seconds. Alongside all that jumping and sailing, the children’s entertainment tent featured magicians and musicians geared for the young ones.
At the other end of town, the accent was on cooking and more food. On Saturday morning, the amateur mushroom cookoff saw Rebecka Evens from Texas, a frequent winner of cooking contests, take home the honors for the second year in a row for her Prosecco Mushroom Butter Gnocchi with Garlic Chili.
Asked why she traveled all the way from her home state to Kennett Square, she said, “I love mushrooms.”
Later in the day in that same tent, crowds gathered for the bawdy fried mushroom eating contest. The mood was wild and enthusiastic as a host of contestants sat at two tiers of tables and consumed as much as they could in eight minutes. In the end, the contest was won by Molly Schuyler, who ate 9.2 pounds. An experienced competitive eater, she also won this year’s Wing Bowl in Philadelphia.
On Sunday, that special events tent filled up again for soup and wine tasting. Hundreds of people showed up to taste and vote on their favorite local soups and wines, which they sampled during their stop there.
Nearby, at the growing exhibit tent on Broad Street, local growers brought in a large, living display of how mushrooms are grown. From composting to harvesting, the growers explained the process of producing Pennsylvania’s largest cash crop. Visitors were welcome to pick a mushroom from the bed, look at exotics growing in a variety of conditions, and even view the spores (seeds) under a microscope.
At this tent, like many others, the lines were long. Many who entered this exhibit said they had no idea how mushrooms came about.
As night fell, there was more fun to be had as the old-fashioned carnival opened both nights and Sunday afternoon across from Kennett High School. Meanwhile, the Hoots and Hellmouth concert attracted crowds at the east end of State Street.
Throughout the weekend, there was no lack of displays, events and activities to see and take part in. Although the numbers have not been formally released, there are estimates that the 34th annual event probably broke the record of up to 100,000 visitors.
Lafferty, by Sunday, said there had been no major glitches. “I’m pleased,” she said.