Road Trip

It's Mushroom Mania in Pennsylvania

Sunday, August 31, 2008

WHERE: Kennett Square, Pa.

WHY: Fungi festival, top chefs and a mushroom museum.

HOW FAR: About three miles from start to finish, and about 110 miles from Washington.

Kennett Square bills itself as the mushroom capital of the world, and you don't have to be a mycologist to understand why. Cultivation around this little town in southern Chester County, Pa., accounts for 51 percent of all U.S. mushroom production, including such stir-fry, salad and sandwich varieties as creminis, portobellos, shiitakes, oysters and royal trumpets.

Mushroom farming began here in the late 1800s, when growers of roses and carnations began planting the edible fungi in their greenhouses to utilize otherwise fallow space. Mushrooms are grown indoors in vast climate-controlled warehouses and are the state's No. 1 cash crop, with nearly 500 million pounds produced each year.

Any day is a good day for mushrooming (the crop is harvested in all four seasons), but Kennett Square really trots out its beloved 'shrooms during the Mushroom Festival, now in its 23rd year. About 100,000 visitors are expected to turn out for two days of fungus-themed fun. A Mushroom Parade will start things off Saturday at 10 a.m., while more than 160 vendors, most selling mushroom-related foods and goods, set up booths for an open market that takes over the town. In addition, attendees can bob for mushrooms (plunge and pluck fast; you get only one minute), watch cooking demonstrations and hop on a bus for a farm tour.

On Sept. 7, area growers will compete for bragging rights during the mushroom judging contest. The winners will be available for purchase and subsequent consumption.

-- Ben Chapman

Mushroom Festival: Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sept. 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Various locations in Kennett Square. For a schedule and information, call 888-440-9920 or visit $2, age 11 and younger free. Mushroom farm tours are $5.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company