The unique festival celebrates the Gilfeather turnip, first propagated in Wardsboro in the early 1900s by farmer John Gilfeather. Gilfeather Farm still exists, right in the heart of Wardsboro, and the current owners carry on the tradition of farmer Gilfeather by planting a large crop of the heirloom turnip that originated on their farm at the turn of the century. The festival has grown in popularity through the years as more people discover the culinary possibilities of the now-famous sweet tuber. It’s exciting that a humble root vegetable, which some say is actually more of a rutabaga, has attracted much attention to the small town even after leaf season has peaked, and all for a good cause as well.
More than 100 pounds of Gilfeathers will be cooked for the event’s signature Gilfeather turnip soup. Over 200 pounds will be given out to various Wardsboro chefs to prepare different recipes that will be featured as “turnip tastings” at the Turnip Café. All tasting recipes are found in the second edition of the “Gilfeather Turnip Cookbook” on sale in the Turnip Shoppe.
The turnip cart outside town hall will be loaded with hundreds of pounds of Gilfeathers, many grown on neighboring farms such as Dutton’s in Newfane or in local gardens. Turnips are sold by the pound and “they go fast” according to the Friends’ top turnip sales person, Cris Tarnay. Packets of Gilfeather seeds will also be available for sale at the turnip cart. 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 Turnip Café is located in the Wardsboro Town Hall and serves homemade cider doughnuts and coffee beginning at 10 am, followed by lunch and a la carte servings of turnip tastings plus the delicious, creamy Gilfeather turnip soup from 11 am until the food runs out. Soup and tastings are available for takeout or to enjoy at a sit-down lunch. An outdoor “soup station” is for event-goers who want to buy soup only.
The most exciting part of the Turnip Festival is the annual Turnip Contest. Contestants may register Gilfeathers (big, ugly, or both) from 10 to 11 am, upstairs in town hall. Willem Lange, Vermont’s storyteller, author, adventurer, NPR and PBS – TV commentator and host, will judge this year’s contest. The winners will be announced and ribbon awards presented immediately after the judging.
More than 30 craft and farmers’ market vendors are set up inside town hall as well as outdoors under the big tent. The most popular booth is the Turnip Shoppe featuring shirts, hats, aprons, market bags, cookbooks, DVDs, children’s books, china Christmas ornaments- all about the Gilfeather turnip, as well as many other gift items of local interest. The turnip gifts on sale in the Turnip Shoppe will fill one entire room in town hall.
Live music is always a big draw at the Turnip Fest. Visitors will be treated to the guitar and vocals of Jimmy Knapp, Wardsboro’s strolling musician, who annually serenades visitors with his original Gilfeather turnip ballad. Knapp will debut a second, original Gilfeather turnip ballad at the 2102 festival. Other local musicians will perform in the town hall and the tent throughout the event.
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. For more information call (802) 896-3416 or visit www.friendsofwardsborolibrary.org.