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Chester County Press

Mushroom Festival again brings out thousands of visitors

09/14/2023 12:04PM ● By Chris Barber

The 38th annual Mushroom Festival proved again it is one of the most popular food fairs in Pennsylvania. Many thousands of visitors strolled State Street over the weekend, filling their bellies with mushroom treats and their shopping bags with vendor crafts.

It appeared to matter little that the weather bureau started issuing ominous storm warnings for Saturday and Sunday earlier in the week. And even as the days went by, while the Saturday forecast looked a little better, there were still warnings of wind and rain for Sunday.

In spite of those reports and the news that an escaped criminal was on the loose up the road at Longwood Gardens, the folks came ready to spend their money and enjoy themselves at the Mushroom Festival. Furthermore, as luck would have it, not one drop of rain fell.

A reported 200 vendors under tents mixed easily with their potential customers, carrying on conversations about their products and how they were made. Heard in the crowd was a woman telling her companion excitedly, “I’ve spent so much money already!”

In an era in which large numbers of people appear glued to their cell phones, there was virtually no cell phone usage going on. Instead, people engaged in, and enjoyed, face-to-face conversations and dialogues. The objects for sale were unique, and people were eager to buy them and talk about them.

Additionally, there were numerous food and drink locations along the way offering fried mushrooms, ice cream, crab sandwiches, cool drinks and local restaurant specialties.

Both Saturday and Sunday opened up the activities with “chopped” cooking contests. Each of four or five contestants was given a “mystery bag” of foods, including mushrooms, they had to put together creatively within a half hour but they also had access to a wide variety of other choices of additional foodstuffs provided by the local Giant food store. The first day included Spam and yogurt. The second day was canned chicken and crackers. The Saturday winner was Karly Mazza of Oxford, who made what she called “portabella maitake Spam marinated taco.”

The Sunday winner was Debra Berkoski of Conestoga, who put together a ginger-chicken-lemon dish.

Concluding the crowd-attracting events on Sunday was the fried mushroom-eating contest, which always elicits excitement and cheers from a big audience. There were 13 contestants lined up at a long table, competing to see who could eat the most in eight minutes. The winner was Rob McGee from the Bronx, who said he took a bus down from New York City to enter the contest. He consumed more than four pounds of fried mushrooms in the allotted time, it was announced.

The sponsors and providers of the mushrooms for that eating event were Peter and Gale Ferranto, who own and operate Buona Foods. Ferranto is also the event chairperson of the Mushroom Festival, and she reminded her audience at the eating contest, as she does often, that the festival gives back liberally to the community, and through the years has given more than $1 million dollars.

Uptown at the intersection of State and Broad streets was the busy center of the festival. It was the location for the raffle for the painted ceramic mushroom, which chairman/artist Jane Henry said she believed were the most beautiful ever.

At that corner as well were the “Cute as a Button” contest, mushroom soup sales, and the souvenir shop. There was plenty of mushroom-themed clothing for sale, and it appeared from the crowd that some had already bought the shirts and hats and were wearing them for the rest of their visit.

One event that did not come to fruition was the planned mushroom picking contest. It was designed to pit mushroom harvesters against each other in rounds on Saturday and Sunday to find the “champion picker.” Festival vice president and culinary chair Jen Basciani said there was not one application for the competition, so it had to be cancelled.

The Mushroom Festival was started almost four decades ago as a small-one day celebration on State Street. Through the years it has gone through numerous changes and special features like a festival queen contest, an art show, a Ferris wheel, a parade, and even a carnival down the hill. Organizers always find new activities and attractions to please the crowd, and the festival endures. This year and last year, the festival took place under the direction of Ferranto and president Gina Puoci. In some years, it has attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors in the course of the weekend.