Wardsboro honors its most famous vegetable
Local gardeners enter their Gilfeather turnips for the Gilfeather Turnip Festival’s annual contest.

Wardsboro honors its most famous vegetable

12th annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival celebrates town's gift to the world

WARDSBORO — It's turnip time again in Wardsboro.

On Saturday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., hundreds will gather to celebrate the town's own heirloom vegetable at the 12th annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival.

Bushels of turnips, along with craft and farmers' market vendors, arrive early on festival day to take over the small village - inside and outside Town Hall and under tents large and small on Main Street.

The free event, which runs rain or shine, is the largest community fundraising event supporting the town's public library.

In the early 1900s, farmer John Gilfeather could hardly have imagined that his town would one day celebrate in an all-day festival the humble tuber he first propagated.

Gilfeather Farm still exists in the heart of Wardsboro, and its owners carry on Gilfeather's tradition of planting a large crop of the heirloom turnip that originated on their farm at the turn of the century.

Organizers say the festival's 12th year is shaping up as its biggest and best.

More people than ever reportedly are discovering the culinary possibilities of the now-famous heirloom vegetable, and the menu at the Turnip Café provides evidence that turnips are adaptable to savory as well as sweet offerings.

More than 100 pounds of Gilfeathers are cooked for the event's signature Gilfeather turnip soup. Bushels more go to volunteer cooks to prepare savory tastings for entrees and sweet dessert tastings.

A new feature this year is a chef's station, where diners can sample turnip latkes cooked to order and served with maple syrup from a local sugar house.

The Turnip Café, in the Wardsboro Town Hall, serves homemade cider donuts and coffee from 10 a.m. Lunch follows from 11, featuring à la carte servings of turnip tastings and Gilfeather turnip soup.

Hot soup is also served at an outdoor kiosk. Tastings as well as soup are available for takeout or to enjoy at a sit-down lunch. All tasting recipes are found in the second edition of the “Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook,” which is on sale in the Turnip Shoppe.

The large turnip cart outside Town Hall is always loaded with hundreds of pounds of Gilfeathers (of all shapes and sizes), many grown on neighboring farms, such as Dutton's in Newfane, or in local gardens.

According to the Friends of the Wardsboro Library's top turnip salesperson, Cris Tarnay, turnips are sold by the pound - and they go fast.

The outdoor turnip cart will sell organic and non-organic turnips and Gilfeather seed packets. Growers reportedly agree Gilfeathers are hardy and easy to cultivate from seed but shouldn't be harvested before a bite of hard frost. The vegetable acquires a notable sweetness after a frost, and that sweetness is what makes them so special.

The most exciting part of the Turnip Festival, organizers say, is the annual Turnip Contest, free for all to enter. Contestants may register Gilfeathers in one or more categories from 10 a.m. to noon upstairs in Town Hall.

Contest categories include largest grown in Wardsboro, largest grown outside Wardsboro, best turnip name, and wicked-weirdest 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 a personalized, honorable-mention award ribbon.

Author Margaret Roach, former garden editor for Martha Stewart Living, will judge this year's contest. Roach's third and most recent book, “The Backyard Parable,” will be on sale, and she will be on hand to discuss her love of gardening and to sign her book.

More than 30 craft and farmers' market vendors are set up inside Town Hall and outdoors under the big tent. For a vendor list, visit www.friendsofwardsborolibrary.org.

One of the most popular booths is the Turnip Shoppe, which features shirts, hats, aprons, market bags, cookbooks, DVDs, children's books, and mugs - all about the Gilfeather turnip - as well as many other gift items of local interest.

The Turnip Shoppe is in a separate room on the first floor of Town Hall along with the “Christmas in Vermont” shop featuring holiday ornaments designed and handmade by local crafters.

Live music is always a big draw at the Turnip Fest. Wardsboro's own troubadour, Jimmy Knapp, loves to serenade visitors throughout the festival with his original Gilfeather turnip ballads and many more of his original guitar compositions.

Other local musicians and entertainers are scheduled to perform throughout the event at Town Hall and under the big tent.

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