Once a year, Magnolia, Illinois' population of 300 becomes at least a thousand for a day. The principal attraction is the morel championship allowing 527 competitors on a first-come basis to march over privately held lands seeking morels. People come from all over the midwest to compete in the 3 hour competition. Afterwards, there is a live auction of morels in 1/2 pounds increments.
This year was not the best for the morel championship. Usually, the champion hunter has in excess of 150 morels. This year, two competitors had 35 morels each with the winner decided by how much the collection weighed. What accounts for a low volume? Moisture is always a factor and it has been relatively dry spring. The temperatures are cool which can also retard the season. Remember the first weekend of May is arbitrarily fixed, they could not possibly shift dates relative to optimum morel conditions. Consequently, one has to have an off year like this one. I am rather pleased to boast my home club, the Illinois Mycological Association, has had members win the championship on at least 3 occasions.
For those who did not attend the hunt, they had a petting zoo, a craft fair, surrey rides, classic auto show and village wide garage sale.
The food provided at the festival was a very different character from what we know from street fairs in Chicago. Most of the food provided was locally produced as well as community fundraisers. One club offered the pancake and sausage breakfast. The fire department had butterflied pork chops grilled over coal, with not so great baked beans and potato salad. If one simply had the pork chop sandwich, ignoring the sides, then it was a very pleasant meal.
The Methodist Church ladies baked homemade pies (purchased whole or slices), cakes, cookies, turnovers, coffee and lemonade. I make pies and always love to check the competition. I try to buy what seems to be the best of the lot: thin almost transparent crusts, heavy, dense feel, nice color and hand crimped crusts. This year I bought two pies: blackberry and rhubarb. The blackberry was made from berries which were handpicked and frozen, I met the baker. Her approach to filling was similar to mine, not so stiff it looks like you cut styrofoam but not so loose there is liquid streaming around your plate, just the right combination of moisture and cohesiveness. I had to laugh at the older women's opinion to buy whole pies first thing in the morning: no! The younger women intervened to allow me to pick what I wanted. Of course it was simple economics, by slice they got $9 per pie, but whole was $7. The pie I really wanted was a cherry with beautiful decorative cut-outs on the crust. Unfortunately, she submitted her metal pie tin with her address taped on, returning the tin would be a pain ... if they would even give it to me.
There were some commericial food vendors, but again it was still really local stuff. The local fudge queen was there with her wares. There was a small trailer where all they offered paper thin, loose fried onions rings for $4 a plate. They were so thin, they needed to be eaten fast because they lost their heat so fast. These were amongst the best onion rings I have ever had. ONe of my friends inquired about the recipe, which of course they were rebuffed. Elephant ears were also available, though nobody in my party bought any.
Though the weather wasn't great: cold with rain, it wasn't the most unpleasant way to spend the day.
P.S. Mushroom Club meet's first MOnday of the month at the North Park Village Nature Center at Pulaski just south of Petersen, except July, January and February.