Well February has arrived – and that means it’s Fabulous Florida Strawberry Month. I know we are happy about it. There are hundreds of roadside vendors and U-picks full of our favorite fruit. Possibly the best part is that February means the annual Florida Strawberry Festival is right around the corner.
The strawberries actually are planted in October, then grow on through to April. We like it because they are here just in time for Valentines Day. Plus, fresh strawberries are easy to find. There are commercial strawberry operations from Pensacola to Miami.
We were a bit worried this year, because we thought our warm December might spoil the crop. Much to our delight, this does not seem to be the case.
But the best part is, February is the annual Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. While Florida is the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. Plant City is the epicenter of the celebration. And if you like strawberries like we do, this needs to be on your bucket list.
At the festival you can eat strawberries to your heart’s content. Offered are fresh strawberries, strawberry shortcake, strawberry milkshakes, assorted strawberry coated nuts, strawberries dipped in chocolate. strawberry pies, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry cobblers, strawberry parfait – even strawberry pizza! And that’s the short list of the delights you can find there.
Of course, there are dozens of carnival-style rides, hundreds of vendors and booths, there are livestock and other shows, plus a whole slate of top-named pop and country music acts.
But in case you miss that one, there actually are a number of strawberry themed festivals throughout the state. There’s the Barberville Strawberry Fest at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement. That’s located on the edge of the Ocala National Forest north of Deland (one of our favorites).
It’s not nearly as huge, but it is packed with down-home fun including a cute baby contest, a pie eating contest, a strawberry relay race and of course, a lot of innovative strawberry treats.
There’s also the Bradford County Strawberry Festival. Located in Starke, in the state’s northern region, they also have plenty of contests, entertainment and sweet strawberry delights.
The folks in Floral City -between Homosassa and Leesburg- also have a celebration of the sweet red fruit. It’s more hometown, with such things as a Strawberry Princess and Little Miss Strawberry Princess Pageant, inflatable games, local bands and entertainment. Of course there will be plenty of fresh strawberries by the flat or by the box.
This year they also are expecting special appearances by the Tin Can Tourists, the Idaho Big Potato and the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.
Clay County’s Strawberry Festival is at their fairgrounds. Their day of fun and festivities include rides, live music, arts & crafts, a petting zoo and a sack race among other things.
And down in Boca Grande, The Lighthouse United Methodist Church has their own gathering. The strawberries and shortcake there are joined with an arts, crafts and yard sale.
Good Reasons for Florida Strawberries
Florida is one of the top two states in the nation for producing strawberries. Ours are some of the sweetest and most flavorful anywhere on the planet.
Did you know that the redder strawberries do not necessarily mean sweeter strawberries? We suggest you be on the look-out for shiny berries. And the green top, which is called a calyx, needs to look fresh.
And there are different varietals as well. We were told some of the most popular are Winterstar, Radiant and the new Sweet Sensation. Sue Harrell of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association told us this is the one that sets the industry standard.
“The Sweet Sensation has the color, the shape and travels well,” she said. “This is like a four-bite strawberry. And when you take a bite, it’s going to be sweet, even if it’s not super red.”
Keeping and Eating Strawberries
When you see Florida strawberries in the grocery store, chances are they are pretty fresh. Strawberries usually have to be sold the same day they get to the store. And often, berries are shipped out from the farms the same day they are picked. That means a turnaround of about four days, from their farm to your cart.
The best way to keep your strawberries from spoiling quickly is to leave them unwashed when you first bring them home. The ideal storage vessel is in fact their plastic container. It is well-ventilated and made for strawberries. Pop them in the fridge, because heat and humidity causes them to go bad more quickly.
And remember, wash them just before you eat them.
So whether you get them at the store, pick them or get them at one of the many festivals statewide. We think they taste best when they come from the Sunshine State. And after all, February is Fabulous Florida Strawberry Month.