Aimee Olexy's guide to the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square

When I decided to move to Kennett Square 12 years ago, one of the reasons was the mushrooms. I’d grown up only a few miles away, and I knew the area well.  I thought a town with a mushroom festival was perfect for me.  I loved Jamie Wyeth’s shadowy painting Mushroom Picker. I loved all things tie-dyed and earthy. I figured I’d fit right in.

In a sense, you could call me a mushroom aficionado.When I ran restaurants in California, I’d spend hours hanging out at Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, eating fistfuls of rare candy cap mushrooms. In Anderson Valley, I walked the woods for exotic varieties, such as false truffles, puff balls, and earth stars. In Crested Butte, Colo., I collected pig’s ears. Once in Chester County, I accidentally stepped on black chanterelles in the Brandywine Laurels. At home in West Marlborough, morels grew in the cracks of my mom’s front porch.

When I was at Django, the BYOB in Society Hill in 2001, mushrooms were a staple of the menu. And six years later, when Talula’s Table was launched, it was my idea to put it in the heart of  mushroom country, Kennett Square.

I was excited to take part in Kennett Square’s annual Mushroom Festival in the first year Talula’s was open, but I had trouble finding actual mushrooms and enough interesting things to eat made with mushrooms. In my second year, I resolved to change that: at Talula’s Table, we made exotic mushroom grab bags and sent festivalgoers home with a DIY dinner recipe. Since then, we’ve gone a little mushroom crazy: concocting mushroom cream puffs, mushroom brownies, mushroom mac and cheese, mushroom bread pudding, mushroom quiche, crepes, sausages, and more.  For this year’s festival, we’re working on a mushroom maple cappuccino.

Sept. 9 and 10 marks the 32nd Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, and I can assure you that mushrooms really do abound. What started as a one-block event to raise money for local high school scholarships has mushroomed into a milelong stretch of more than 250 vendors, culinary events, and children’s entertainment that is expected to draw 100,000  attendants.

There are all the events the community has come to love, such as the Cute as a (Mushroom) Button Baby Photo Contest, the Antique and Classic Car Show, the puppet shows, the juggling, and music (this year, 10,000 Maniacs will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday). And  there are also several mushroom-centric culinary demonstrations, an amateur mushroom-cooking competition, and a battle for the best mushroom soup in the Brandywine Valley.

Here are my recommendations for the highlights of the festival:

The Growers’ Exhibit – This is an amazing way to educate yourself about mushrooms.  Have you ever seen the lunar landscape of mushrooms growing in their compost medium?  It is an unforgettable sight.

Challenge Butter Sautéed Shrooms – First year ever! Taste the pure marriage of sweet button mushrooms and silky California butter.

Woodside Creamery – Farmstead, farm-made Jersey milk, pumpkin mushroom ice cream.  Woodside does it right.

The Mushroom Cap – Try the Snack N Shrooms, the all-natural, dried mushroom jerky from this famous little mushroom boutique.

The Woodlands at Phillips Mushroom Farms – This is a step outside town and worth a visit.  Walk through a mushroom museum, a growing room, and a store with mushroom goodies galore.

Green Eyed Lady & Scout and Annie – Our favorite vintage gals for gifts, clothing, furniture, and rare midcentury mushroom memorabilia.

James Beard Foundation Blended Burger Project – Sample these scrumptious mushroom-blended burgers on Sunday.

Talula’s Table – The cafe and store will be offering mushroom dips, mushroom macaroni, and mushroom risotto, among many mushroom treats.

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