Back in the day, mushroom hunters would bring coolers full of morels to sell on street corners during Houby Days, an annual Czech Village celebration in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Laws in recent years have restricted those sales, but Houby Days (Houby is the Czech word for mushroom) continues its annual tribute to the beloved morel mushrooms every spring.
This year’s festival, the 40th anniversary of Houby Days, is set for Friday, May 19, through Sunday, May 21, in the historic business district along 16th Avenue SW.
Activities begin with the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library’s 15th Annual Taste of Czech & Slovak from 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 19. The event features appetizers, soup, salads, sides, entrées and dessert recipes handed down by generations of Czech and Slovak cooks.
At the same time, the Houby Days carnival, artisans and food vendors, live music and more begin, and continue throughout the three-day festival. The Czech Village Association, which sponsors the celebration, often purchases morels to sell at the event.
Czech Village restaurants, bars, retail shops, brew pub, antiques stores, bakery and meat market are also open for the entire weekend, with many spotlighting mushrooms in various forms.
An egg and houby breakfast is featured both Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, at the Frog Pub & Eatery, while mushrooms are judged in a houby contest for the largest, smallest and other categories of morels on Saturday afternoon.
This year was an early season for morel mushrooms in Iowa, with the sponge-like delicacies “popping” in mid-April in wooded areas of the state. Contestants sometimes resort to freezing their entries to preserve them until the contest.
The Czech Heritage Foundation sponsors the annual Houby Days Parade, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 20, in New Bohemia, and crossing the Bridge of Lions into Czech Village.
Floats, Czech organizations, classic cars, the Czech Royal Court and visiting Czech queens are among the participants in the popular event.
The Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa queen pageant takes place Saturday afternoon, and culminates in the crowning of the new queen Saturday night.
On Sunday, the crowning of the Czech Prince and Princess and Czech Little Brothers and Little Sisters takes place at the Kosek Bandstand in Czech Village.
Houby Days ends Sunday at 4 p.m.
For a map and complete list of Houby Days events, see: www.czechvillagecedarrapids.com
View images of morel mushrooms and more photos from last year’s Houby Days.