Asparagus festival celebrates Mullica Hill history

Contest offers recipes with the vegetable, from starters to desserts

At the centennial asparagus festival in Mullica Hill earlier this month, Gina Totten won first place in the resident recipe contest for her asparagus bundt cake. Photo courtesy of James Malaby.

The Old Town Hall Museum hosted an asparagus festival honoring Mullica Hill history on May 14 in spite of rain.

More than 100 years ago this month, a planeload of asparagus flew from Mullica Hill to Boston – the first time fresh produce had been shipped by air in the country. To celebrate that historic event, the Harrison Township Historical Society sponsored the asparagus festival, where special exhibits, activities for families, produce sales and an asparagus recipe contest took place.

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“The asparagus festival was a great success despite Saturday’s rain,” said Anthony Marino, executive chef and owner of Marino’s in the township. “Our mission was to promote and celebrate this historical event that happened right here in our backyard, and I think we pulled it off.”

Proceeds from the event benefited the exhibitions and programs of the historical society. Farms acted as vendors to sell locally grown asparagus available for sampling at the festival.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Mullica Hill residents submitted their recipes for a contest in which the town’s top chefs would prepare those recipes at Marino’s, 322 BBQ and blueplate. All types of recipes were encouraged, from starters to main dishes and desserts.

Mullica Hill hosted an asparagus festival on May 14 so residents could taste asparagus-themed dishes, like these asparagus chocolate cupcakes by Karen Viereck. Photo courtesy of James Malaby

“People learned a little bit of history and were able to enjoy asparagus-themed recipes,” Marino said.

After residents sampled the recipes and voted for their favorites, an asparagus bundt cake recipe from Gina Totten came out on top. Second place went to David Tinney’s shrimp and asparagus salad, and third place to an asparagus quiche by Mary Ellen Volkmar. Other recipes that were recognized included an asparagus flatbread by Maureen Brigham, an asparagus and prosciutto roll mac and cheese by Gloria Horvay, and asparagus chocolate cupcakes by Karen Viereck.

Non-recipe submitters also entered drawings and won prizes at the festival, including a Jersey Fresh cutting board and chef’s apron, a set of asparagus tongs and several cookbooks. The items were donated by the state Department of Agriculture and Ginger and May products and service.

Alongside with the festival, the Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club sponsored an asparagus bike ride and the Mullica Hill Business Association hosted its annual Arts on Main craft fair.

While the asparagus festival was a one-time, centennial celebration, its unexpected success may lead to an annual venture.

“Who knows? Maybe we will be back at it again next year,” Marino said.

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