Entering Chester County from the south, on Route 1, a feeling of being transported back in time sweeps over you. Gazing upon the many farms, fields and forests you know you have left the city behind. Rolling hills expose more farms far off in a dreamy landscape many outside of Pennsylvania have never seen. You might even see an Amish farmer tilling his field with a team of shaggy draft horses as the modern world rushes by. From Route 1 there are several white and grey, concrete block buildings visible that hide the famous bounty of this area, mushrooms!
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is the Mushroom Capital of the World. This is due to the amount of mushrooms grown and sold from this bucolic farming area in the rolling hills of southeast Pennsylvania, just forty-five minutes from Philadelphia. Over one million pounds of mushrooms are shipped each week from this picture postcard town, and surrounding area. Sporting mere 6,100 or so residents you can find everything mushroom here. On the main drag most restaurants sell their version of mushroom soup. It’s great fun to try more than one restaurant’s soup on a chilly fall day. Since there are several on the main drag (State Street) it’s easy to do. Also on the State Street is a shop named “The Mushroom Cap” where you can buy fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, mushroom chips and more.
In September the town celebrates their world of fungi with a Mushroom Festival resplendent with cooking contests, a parade, and cooking demos that stretch more than a mile and see up to 100,000 guests in attendance during the two day event. At the festival you can buy all things mushroom including mushroom ice cream! The town pretty much shuts down for this major event.
What has me returning to Kennett Square often is specialty mushrooms. It was here on a visit seven years ago that my eyes were opened up to this hidden world. I had hardly ever heard of Maitake, pompom, or royal trumpet mushrooms. The more I visited and bought these special mushrooms the more I learned from the locals how to prepare and enjoy them. Each new trip I’d try to visit a different restaurant to try their mushroom dishes. My favorite thing to order is mushroom soup which comes in many varieties. Most restaurants in the area have their own version of mushroom soup, and many of them are outstanding. Cream based soup is the norm but one of my new favorites is a clear, broth based soup, served at the coffee shop, (Philter) on State Street that is delicious.
If you are looking for the best retail mushroom shop The Woodlands at Phillip’s is the place to go. Just 1.3 miles from downtown on South Union St is their charming 1828 brick farmhouse. As you walk in the door you can tell right away this is the most mushroom products you have ever seen in one place. They have several kinds of fresh mushrooms from their farm and occasionally sell wild mushrooms too. You can buy mushroom pasta, mushroom soup mixes, dried mushrooms, frozen mushrooms, and many more products too numerous to mention. If you have time, visit their free mushroom museum out back to learn how local rose farmers many years ago turned this corner of Pennsylvania into the mushroom heaven it is today.
There is more to Kennett Square than mushrooms. The Battle of the Brandywine Battlefield is nearby for history buffs. Art enthusiasts can visit the Brandywine River Museum in Chad’s Ford just minutes away. Here you can see works of art from Andrew Wyeth and others from this famous painter’s family. One of the most spectacular gardens in the U.S. is right in Kennett Square-Longwood Gardens. As the ticket checker scans your ticket you walk out of the visitor’s center and behold a sweeping vista of trees and gardens as far as you can see. Not just any trees, but trees that made Pierre Du Pont spring into action and save this collection of rare and valuable trees that were to be cut down for lumber! Here you will find fantastic fountains (although the main fountains are being renovated presently) a large conservatory, and several miles of trails that take you to natural meadows, a waterfall, carillon, and many gardens. Bring out your inner-child by visiting the three whimsical treehouses that you can climb or walk up into.
The main house is now a museum where owner Pierre DuPont lived part time where you can watch a short film on this successful benefactor’s life. For a peaceful interlude let the Italian water garden lure you into a dreamscape of an Italian castle garden. As you listen to the many water features splashing about you just might doze off in ecstasy. Longwood is rated number one on Tripadvisor.com for a good reason. If the gardens aren’t enough to bring you in, there are fireworks several times per year, as well as indoor or outdoor concerts. Longwood’s 1930 Aeolian Organ went through a seven year restoration and is worth a visit just to see this massive musical instrument with its 10,010 pipes housed in the conservatory. Organ concerts are given several times per year and are sometimes free with your entry ticket.
My favorite time to visit Kennett Square is in the spring and fall. In the spring Longwood Gardens has a bulb display with several hundred thousand tulips and other gorgeous flowers to dazzle you. This is eye candy to the extreme that will have your head spinning. In the fall, country roads beckon with flaming trees and two hundred year old farms looking like a Norman Rockwell painting. Take a drive around snapping pictures and smelling the fresh fall air to inhale the beauty of this place.
When it’s time to eat try my favorite restaurant in Kennett Square on State Street-Portabello’s. Here husband and wife team, Brett and Sondra treat you like special guests serving some of the best food around, including several mushroom dishes. It is important to note Portabello’s is a BYOB restaurant so bring your favorite adult beverage. There are modern hotels and a few special bed and breakfast inns to welcome you to this slice of Americana served with a side of mushrooms. Kennett Square is easily accessed from Baltimore or Philadelphia by car. All that is missing is you.