On Your Table: All things fungi at Kennett’s Mushroom Festival

While there’s lot to see and do, it comes down to food — and delicious mushrooms

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times


Servers having lots of fun at the Ferranto food tent plating up fried mushrooms during this past weekend’s Mushroom Festival.

KENNETT SQUARE — People came hungry to the 28th annual Kennett Square Mushroom Festival last weekend and it was a good thing, since at its heart, the event is a food festival.  Among the tantalizing treats at the festival’s food tents were portabella mushroom “sliders”, crab imperial stuffed mushroom caps, every kind of mushroom soup, fried mushrooms, mushrooms wraps and even mushroom ice cream offered by Woodside Creamery from nearby Hockessin, Delaware.

I tried not to get distracted by the more than 200 vendors who lined seven blocks of State Street selling everything fungi related as I made my way to the Special Events tent, where area restaurants competed for the honor of having the best Mushroom Soup in the Brandywine Valley.


Mushroom soup contest winners from Desmond Hotel, Kevin Kessler, chef assistant Erin Ellwanger and chef John Ellwanger

In the tent, there was plenty of opportunity to sample the soups being presented.   The Fire Hill Pub from nearby Toughkenamon offered an all-vegetarian soup featuring Vidalia onions and tarragon, with oyster mushrooms, shitaki mushrooms, crimini’s and portabella’s.  Buckley’s Tavern from Centreville, Delaware touted their all-local, all-vegetarian soup and the fact that theirs was gluten free.  Capazzoli Caterers’ soup was rich and dense.   The mushrooms were sautéed in bacon fat, then incorporated in a mascarpone cheese-based broth flavored with truffle oil.  The Gables Restaurant from Chadd’s Ford proposed a non-cream version,with a soup flavored with thyme, cilantro and oregano.

Honestly, it was a tough call.  But apparently my taste buds were right in line with the popular vote.  My favorite soup was from the Desmond Hotel in Malvern, a first time contestant and the competition winner.  Kevin Kessler, from the Desmond crew, said that their approach was to let the food do the work.  Chef John Ellwanger’s preparation was simple and traditional, with tender mushrooms bathed in a white wine cream sauce.  It was awesome.

During the festival, tens of thousands of visitors jammed the streets of Kennett and fungi activities abounded.  A popular stop was the growers tent which highlighted the science behind mushroom farming.  It attracted long lines of folks interested in seeing how mushrooms are grown. Members of the industry displayed beds of growing substrate and explained all the stages of growth from preparation of the soil to picking the crop.

New this year was an Mushroom Appetizer Cook-off which showcased the talents of six amateur finalists who competed in “Chopped” fashion before judges including Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, George Greig, and celebrity chef Christina Verrelli from the Food TV Network’s new show America’s Best Cook.

The 3rd National Fried Mushroom Eating Championship took place on Saturday in the midst of a thunderstorm. Past winner Molly Schuyler returned to defend her world record and broke it by consuming 11 pounds of fried mushrooms from Buona Foods in eight minutes.  That’s more than one pound of mushrooms per minute.

Starting with just a few restaurants selling food on a single block, the Mushroom Festival has grown to become Kennett’s biggest event of the year.  The mission of the Festival is to educate consumers about the health benefits of mushrooms and to promote tourism in Southern Chester County, all while financially supporting local and regional charities through a grant process. In 2014, the Festival awarded $75,000 to local non-profits from proceeds of last year’s Festival.

Kennett Square, recently named among America’s coolest small towns, produces 65 percent of mushrooms grown in America. Commercial mushroom production in the United States started in Kennett Square over 100 years ago and with a majority of the United State’s mushroom production centered in the area around the town, its tagline is the “Mushroom Capital of the World.”

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