It might not seem likely that someone would be excited about having fungus growing in the neighborhood. But it's possible when the fungus is mushrooms.
“People who like mushrooms are very interested in learning how to cook them and fix them,” said festival coordinator Greg Stevens.
That – and the fact that Ostrom’s Mushrooms is across the street from the Thurston County Regional Athletic Complex – spawned the idea for the Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival.
The three-year-old festival, happening Saturday and Sunday, puts a focus on eating, growing and cooking with mushrooms.
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New this year is a recipe contest conducted by Mary Ellen Psaltis, one of The Olympian’s food columnists. Finalists’ dishes will be available for tasting during the event and attendees can vote for their favorite.
Asked if any really unusual dishes – akin to the garlic ice cream served at the Chehalis Garlic Fest – are available, Stevens couldn’t think of any from past years.
“One of the recipes in the recipe contest is a tea bread,” he said. “It’s almost like a dessert. It’s banana-mushroom tea bread.”
While they generally aren’t big fans of vegetables, children will find plenty to like at the festival, organizers said.
“It’s amazing,” said festival volunteer Marny Bright of the children’s play area, which includes a bounce house, a tumble bus, entertainment and more. “The kids are all entertained and happy.”
Also for kids are martial-arts demonstrations, dance performances and balloon twister Adam Lee. And there’s plenty of entertainment for adults, including music, cooking and gardening demonstrations and discussions, and even scientific information. Those who don’t like mushrooms needn’t fear, however: Vendors selling food are asked to include mushrooms on their menus, but there are plenty of fungus-free options as well.
“It’s a culinary event, but you can still get a hamburger,” Stevens said.
The event has no beer or wine, unlike many other food festivals, but it does have a new garden of refreshment, serving root-beer floats.
“A kid can come in and get an armband, and for $5, he gets two root-beer floats,” Stevens said. (Adults are welcome, too.)
Last year, the festival attracted an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people, and Stevens has high hopes for the future.
“The garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., gets over 100,000 people, and this has that kind of potential,” he said. “The mushroom festival in the mushroom capital of the world, which is Kennett Square, Pa., draws over 100,000 people. It’s a big community family event, and that what’s this is.”