Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fit for Foodies - Wild Mushroom Festival - Mystic, CT

Wild Mushroom Festival Sign at Nature Center Mystic CT - New England Fall Events
Welcoming to Mushroom Festival Denison
Pequotsepos Nature Center - Mystic, CT
New England Fall Events took an easy road trip down to Mystic, CT to check out a festival devoted to one of our very favorite foods—mushrooms! We didn’t quite know what we were in for but we happily paid to see what was in store.
Remember to to circle Sunday, September 25th, 2016 so you can experience this festival for yourself

We arrived at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (DPNC) just before doors opened. With a Sunday farmers’ market wrapping up in the large field adjacent to the parking area, we killed a little time perusing the beautiful late harvest vegetables and stocking up on some local honey. At 2:00 on the nose, we crossed the street and followed the sign down a path to the head of a trail. We paid our admission (less for DPNC members) and in return we were handed tickets to redeem for small plates at the various food booths.

Childrens Mushroom Crafts at the Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _New England Fall Events
Mushroom-themed Fiber Art
Out of the direct sun and situated under tall pine trees were about two dozen tables, displays, and food booths. This was an educational festival hosted by the DPNC and situated at the front of the festival area were large tables with an elaborate and detailed display of wild mushroom samples, each with a corresponding label for its scientific and common name. 

Volunteers from the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society (a.k.a. “fungi lovers and scientists” to you and me) who were present at the table to answer questions or share interesting facts. Adjacent to the tables was a display of mushroom-themed art created by local schoolchildren and a selection of mushroom-topic children’s books.

Mycological Nature Guide - Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall Events
Our fantastically entertaining mycologist
Scientists from the CVMS provided visitors with ongoing guided tours of the wooded walking trail where the guide would spot and point out the various fungi growing along the path—on a tree, an old log, or growing in the dirt. The guide would talk about the name, why it grows there, whether it is edible, what other fungi it may be easily mistaken for, etc. 

Our guide herself was also rather entertaining; not only did we learn a ton in a short amount of time about the mushrooms sitting right along our feet, but the sheer passion and admiration that she had for the found fungi was surprising. Yes, you read that correctly—she had a “passion and admiration” for the mushrooms in the way she would handle, cradle, pet, and talk about the found specimens as though they were treasured children. She would hold them up for our group to see and she would peer expertly at them through the mini magnifying glass that hung on a lanyard around her neck. The closer she looked at the fungi, the more she would ooh and coo over the sample all the while describing the personality and style of the mushroom. It was rather delightful and entertaining to see how smitten she was by the various fungi, occasionally referring to some a “these little cuties.” It was impossible not to get drawn in by her appreciation for the mushrooms and we too found ourselves charmed not only by the mushrooms but by our quirky, amusing, and knowledgeable guide as well.

Serving up the Tasty Small Plates at the Wild Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall Events
Serving up the wild mushroom menu
to dozens of us happy to partake.
After our tour, with tickets in hand, we followed our noses to the fragrant food booths doling out hearty dishes featuring the celebrated mushroom. Most, if not all, of the mushroom-themed small plates were cooked by the chefs at local restaurants. Each booth really outdid themselves in their preparation of their meal and everything was outstandingly delicious!
We tried  the johnnycakes with sautéed mushrooms, wild mushroom bruschetta, mushroom pizza, mixed mushroom stew and more. Each vendor shared which types of mushrooms they used for the dish which was nice because we could appreciate the variety, texture, and flavor of the glorious fungi. In particular, the wild mushroom stew was truly splendid--the earthy flavor of the delicate broth coupled with the vegetables and firm, fat chunks of chewy mushrooms.

Social Gathering at the Wild Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall Events
A social and festive atmosphere
with gorgeous New England scenery
The pizza was popular, especially with the handful of kids who were in attendance (this festival seemed to mostly appeal to adults) and I noticed they ran out of pizza very early on, within the first hour. There was a single craft vendor featuring mushroom themed goodies, a small selection of wild mushrooms for sale to take home (nothing unusual), and an area for local wine and coffee. The festival attendees stood casually around the center of the food area chatting and eating their tasty mushroom treats. In our experience, people who love mushrooms tend to really love mushrooms so it’s no surprise that the atmosphere of this event was an enthusiastic, ebullient, and social one. The whole gathering buzzed like a merry cocktail party was underway! Many people seemed to already know each other and, being the 12th year of this event, it’s a safe bet that this festival is a staple of the Mystic community.
Mycological Display at the Wild Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall Events
Mushroom specimens at the CT
Mycological Society display

The food tickets that came with our admission garnered us about 2 small plates apiece (the # of tickets redeemed for each food item varied slightly) but, we, being wild about mushrooms, didn’t hesitate to restock our food tickets for an additional fee so we could continue eating our way into blissful fungi oblivion.

We rounded out our food adventures with a scoop of mushroom ice cream which, as best as I can describe, tasted more like vanilla bean flecked with mushrooms (which is probably what it was)—and it was rich and delicious.

Mycologic Specimen at the Wild Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall EventsWe stayed for about 90 minutes in all and during that time the festival became quite convivial as more and more people arrived. Set under the tall trees with sunlight dappling the pine needled floor, it was a truly exquisite New England fall experience. Being late-September, the foliage was really starting to come alive in CT making for a fun, scenic and delicious road trip. We certainly recommend this fascinating festival for nature enthusiasts and foodies alike! It was a lovely afternoon festival that was equal parts educational, jolly, and delectable.

Wild Mushroom Festival Tips:
Social Crowd at the Wild Mushroom Festival Mystic CT _ New England Fall Events
You couldn't ask for a lovelier
New England setting.
  • This educational, social, and memorable experience can be had for under $20 (a reduced rate for DPNC Members) and includes 10 food tickets.  You’d be crazy to stop at 1 or 2 small plates though so bring a little extra cash to buy additional food tickets.
  • The admission ticket booth accepted cash and credit cards.
  • Wear suitable shoes—the festival is set at the trail head to the woods and if there had been recent rain, I imagine it could be a little mushy. You’ll be glad to have the right shoes for the guided mushroom tours in the woods.
  • It would be a wise to wear tick repellent as the entire festival is abutting the scenic woods.
  • There were several gluten-free mushroom-themed small plates if that is important to you. However, it's safe to assume the mini-meals the restaurants create for the festival would vary from year to year to keep the experience new, fresh, and interesting.
  • This festival takes place rain or shine.
  • Plenty of free parking across the street.

Family Tips:
Mushroom specimens at the CT
Mycological Society's display table
  • There is plenty for kids to learn about mushrooms and with the main food booths and mushroom displays all organized in a wooden clearing, the festival is quite contained. It is easy to keep track of where the kids are and there’s room for them to move and play, especially up the hill toward the admission booth.
  • Kids admission is available at a reduced price (even lower for DPNC members) and comes with 2 food tickets.
  • At the risk of stating the obvious, mushrooms haven't exactly earned the reputation as a kid-popular food so parents should understand that mushrooms are the ONLY focus of the food here. There aren't non-fungi foods available so plan accordingly if your kids need a snack.
  • The festival is stroller-friendly to a point… The guided trail tours would not be suitable for a stroller due to the narrow wooden walkway at the entrance. The food/main area was roomier when the festival began and did get more crowded as the festival went on.
  • Plenty of free parking across the street.
Check out Wild Mushroom event listing here on New England Fall Events.

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