Festival honors Vermont's state vegetable

WARDSBORO — Every October, after autumn's first few hard frosts, Wardsboro honors, sells and "cooks up" the bounty of one particular turnip in a very special way. On Saturday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., hundreds will gather to celebrate Vermont's state vegetable at the 15th Annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival. The turnip cart filled with bushels and bushels of turnips along with craft and farmers market vendors arrive early on festival day to "take over" the small village, inside and outside of Town Hall and under big and small tents on Main Street. It is the largest community fundraising event supporting the town's public library. The free event takes place rain, snow or shine. A $2 donation is suggested for parking.

The most exciting part of the Turnip Festival is the annual Turnip Contest, free for all to enter. Contestants may register Gilfeather turnips in one or more categories from 10 a.m. to noon upstairs in Town Hall. Contest categories are: largest grown in Wardsboro; largest grown outside Wardsboro; best turnip name; and best strange and funny turnip. The largest turnip — total weight with greens — will be awarded "Grand Champion" of the festival. Winners are announced and ribbons awarded immediately after the judging. All children 12 and under who enter a turnip will receive an honorable mention award ribbon.

The Turnip Caf , located in the Wardsboro Town Hall, serves homemade cider donuts and coffee beginning at 10 a.m., followed by lunch beginning at 11 a.m. featuring ala carte servings of turnip tastings. Local cooks peel, slice and shred the tubers to make the delicious, creamy Gilfeather turnip soup, served until the food runs out. Donuts, coffee and hot soup to go, are also sold at an outdoor kiosk. All food served that day is found in the 3rd edition of the Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook on sale in the Turnip Boutique in Town Hall.

More than 40 craft and farmers' market vendors are set up inside Town Hall and outdoors under the several big and small tents on Main Street. Vendors sell goods such as pottery, cheeseboards, folk art and, of course, food. All food vendors at this year's festival are from Vermont. A complete vendor list is available at www.friendsofwardsborolibrary.org. One of the most popular booths is the Friends' Turnip Boutique featuring shirts, hats, kitchen towels, aprons, cookbooks, children's books, handmade turnip pins and ornaments, mugs, postcards and DVDs — all about the Gilfeather turnip — as well as many other gift items of local interest.

Live music is always a big draw at the Turnip Fest. Wardsboro's own strolling troubadour, Jimmy Knapp, loves to serenade visitors throughout the festival with his original Gilfeather turnip ballads and many more of his original guitar compositions. Scheduled to perform on the Town Hall stage is the group "Brothers for Life" and Marvin Bentley, outside the entrance to the Town Office on Main Street. The Wardsboro School Club is sponsoring face painting and games throughout the day to entertain the younger set.

At 2 p.m., the drawing for the Friends of the Wardsboro Library's annual "Best Raffle Ever" takes place at Town Hall. This year's prize is a one of a kind, hand hooked Christmas tree skirt, handmade and donated by fiber artist Linda Gifkins, of Wardsboro. Details about the tree skirt, "Christmas in New England" and raffle tickets are available online at www.friendsofwardsborolibrary.org or at the festival until the drawing. The winner need not be present. Throughout the day four large gift baskets will be raffled off beginning at 10:30 a.m. Winners must be present at the drawings. The baskets contain items donated by festival vendors — food, decor items, ceramics and jewelry.

This year's festival received major financial and in-kind support from Vermont Department of Agriculture, River Valley Credit Union, Betsy Wadsworth — Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty, Dutton's Farm Stand, The Richards Group, and Brattleboro Subaru. The event is staged by dozens of volunteers from Wardsboro, Stratton, Jamaica and Dover.

Honoring the Vermont's

State Vegetable

The Gilfeather Turnip was awarded the great honor of being designated the Vermont state vegetable in 2016. It has the added distinction of being the only turnip included in Slow Food's Ark of Taste, a catalog comprised of only the best-tasting endangered foods. Wardsboro is proud to claim the Gilfeather as its own.

Farmer John Gilfeather could never have imagined that one day his town and the state of Vermont would celebrate and honor his humble tuber that he first propagated in the early 1900s with an all day party. Gilfeather Farm still exists, right in the heart of Wardsboro, and the current owners carry on the tradition of Farmer John by planting a large crop of the heirloom turnip that originated on their farm at the turn of the century. More and more people are discovering the culinary possibilities of the now-famous heirloom vegetable, and the menu at the Turnip Caf provides evidence that turnips are adaptable to savory as well as sweet offerings. It's exciting that a humble root vegetable — knobby, rough skinned and not especially attractive — has attracted so much attention to the small town even after leaf-season has peaked, and all for a good cause as well.

More than 150 pounds of Gilfeathers are cooked for the event's signature Gilfeather turnip soup. Another one hundred and fifty pounds go to volunteer cooks to prepare the savory tastings for entrees and sweet dessert tastings on the menu. The cookbook exclusively features all categories of turnip recipes, many old favorites but most brand new to this 3rd edition.

The large turnip cart outside Town Hall is always loaded with hundreds of pounds of Gilfeathers, all shapes and sizes, many grown on neighboring farms such as Dutton's in Newfane or in local gardens. Turnips are sold by the pound along with Gilfeather seed packets. Growers agree they are hardy and easy to cultivate from seed, but shouldn't be harvested before a bite of hard frost. They acquire a notable sweetness after a frost and that sweetness is what makes the Gilfeather so special.

The festival is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Wardsboro Library for the support of the Gloria Danforth Memorial Building, the home of the Wardsboro Public Library. The Friends of the Wardsboro Library is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit corporation whose mission it is to provide a library for the residents of this small rural Vermont town. The all-volunteer organization owns the library property and each year, volunteers raise thousands of dollars for the maintenance and expenses of the Gloria Danforth Memorial Building, the home of the Wardsboro Public Library. For more information call 896-3416 or visit www.friendsofwardsborolibrary.org, or visit www.wardsborovermont.com


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