In a lot of ways, the annual Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, held this past weekend, was just like any other small town’s summer street fair. 60,000 people descended on the village over the course of the weekend. Vendors, hawking funnel cakes, stuffed animals, lemonade and jewelry, lined the main street. A small carnival set up at one end of town, offering rides, face painting and sticky snacks for the kids in the crowd.
But given the fungal theme of Kennett’s festival, mushrooms of various ilks – deep fried, stuffed and sautéed – also shared the food vendors’ stage. Local snack food magnates Herr’s were there handing out samples of their new mushroom flavored potato chips. Mushroom cultivation demonstrations and farm tours were setup and organized around town. And ‘shroom themed crafts, clothes, even garden furniture, were featured among the goods for sale.
What really made this year’s festival worth the trip for me was the presence of real, local food available from, so to speak, two sides of Kennett’s tracks.
The mushroom capital of the US, Kennett boasts a large resident population of Mexican-Americans, most of who were originally drawn to the area based on the labor force requirements of the local farms. In recent years, more and more members of this community have taken to entrepreneurial efforts in the food and restaurant industry. A number of local taquerias were peppered along the main drag, offering mushroom enchiladas, tripe tacos and an assortment of other specialties. And throughout the year, some of the best ice cream in the region is produced at the storefront operation La Michoacana, which was bustling throughout the festival, turning out rice pudding, avocado, chile and, you guessed it, mushroom flavored ice creams, along with a representative selection of more mainstream flavors. Their peanut butter ice cream tasted intensely of fresh ground peanuts, a refreshing change from the usual candied peanut butter offerings. And the corn flavor… deliciously creamy with just the right savory hint of corn, accented by a generous sprinkling of freshly ground cinnamon.
On the other side of the coin, local restaurateurs and gourmet food specialists were among the many vendors, meeting and greeting new friends and turning out some far finer than average street food. The Whip Tavern, located in nearby Coatesville, PA, was on hand serving fish and chips, scotch eggs, and “beef on weck.” Setup caddy-corner across the main intersection in town was the staff of Talula’s Table, who had the shop’s kitchen hopping to keep up with the crowd’s demand for fresh lobster rolls, house-made kielbasa, and a variety of dishes featuring the local mushroom harvest. Picking up some dinner and pastries to go from Talula’s was just an added bonus to the day’s festivities.