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Meet me at the Mushroom festival

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Philadelphia celebrates the fungi with a festival that showcases portabello tempura, vanilla mushroom creamsicles and a fried mushroom eating content

Philadelphia celebrates the fungi with a festival that showcases portabello tempura, vanilla mushroom creamsicles and a fried mushroom eating content

“We are gearing up for what should be another fantastic Mushroom Festival,” says an excited Chef Brett Hulbert. He and his wife Sandra plan on cooking well over 1000 lbs (453 kilograms) of mushrooms in two days. . The chef, who set up Portabellos, a mushroom-centred restaurant, in 2011, is talking about the ongoing 37th edition of festival at the World Capital of Mushrooms: Kennett Square in Philadelphia. The Festival has been celebrated every September here for over 30 years on the weekend after Labor Day.

Mushroom ice-cream, anyone?

The mighty mushroom is being celebrated not only as a delicious ingredient but also with music, rides and entertainment. Culinary activities range from mushroom soup tasting sessions to experiments such as mushroom ice-cream. The small-town’s main street, filled with unique shops, galleries and gourmet restaurants features the fungi in a host of interesting preparations.

Brett Hubert and Sandra of Portabellos of Kennett Square

A mushroom-centric menu will be on offer for their diners indoors from soup to hummus. Portabello Cheesesteaks and Portabello tempura will be served as street fare for the festival crowd. As for Brett, he is offering his signature soup, made with Stinson Farms’ roasted and pureed white mushrooms seasoned with thyme, roasted garlic, shallot and Madeira wine. “I like to keep the flavours subtle to show off the freshness. The secret to our soup is in the freshness of the mushrooms, which are harvested the day we make the soup,” he says.

His favourite entrée is the fettuccini made with sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallots, white wine and sage in a porcini mushroom cream. It’s the dish he recommends visitors try, along with the soup. Visitors also line up for the mushroom creamsicles at La Michoacana, which “are vanilla-based with slices of mushroom in it,” says Noelia Scharon of the Mexican chain that’s popular for its range of ice-creams.

Mushroom creamsicles

Mushroom creamsicles

Growing kits and books

At Kennett Square, stores like The Mushroom Cap dedicated to the fungi, celebrate with t-shirts, mugs, postcards, greeting cards, magnets, hats, towels, aprons, puzzles, jewellery and Christmas ornaments. Their gourmet food includes marinated mushrooms, truffle, shiitake, lion’s mane, and even mushroom and oyster growing kits.

“My father-in-law started growing white mushrooms in 1946. Our farm is now rented to a grower who produces whites, portobellos and crimini mushrooms,” says Kathi Lafferty of The Mushroom Cap, which she opened in 2004, adding that they also have a variety of dried and fresh local foraged mushrooms when in season.

Some of the mushrooms on offer include the Baby Bella (Crimini), locally grown Shiitake, Oyster, Maitake, and Portobella besides Royal Trumpet, Beech and Pom Pom, available on request. At the outlet, aficionados can see videos on how mushrooms are harvested and pick up cook books.

A museum for the mushroom

In April 2011, The Woodlands at Phillips (the retail store for Phillips Mushroom farms) opened with the goal to deliver fresh, dried, jarred, and speciality mushrooms to the customer market, along with a wide array of mushroom memorabilia such as towels, books, and more.

The charming outlet is the original 1828 family farm home that the Phillips Family acquired in 1890. Now restored, it features a museum where visitors can learn about the growing process, health benefits, medicinal uses, and dietary benefits of mushrooms.

Highlights include their delicious famous breaded mushrooms, experiencing a mushroom growers’ tent, (an indoor fruiting chamber that maintains ideal fruiting conditions for mushrooms), and competitions like The Fried Mushroom Eating Contest.

Quakers, the first farmers

A charming little town in Chester County, Kennett Square region produces over 64% of America’s mushroom crop. Quakers, who settled in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, were prolific gardeners, and they began looking for other crops to grow in hothouse beds and found the mushroom to be viable. They were the first to start mushroom cultivation, and Latin migrants contributed as farm labour. The Italian immigrants brought in the culinary expertise and used the fungi fabulously as an ingredient.



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