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5 Ways to Savor Florida’s Strawberry Season

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Plant City in Central Florida is the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.

Plant City in Central Florida is the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.

It’s high time for Florida’s strawberry season, and Central Florida’s Plant City is the winter strawberry capital of the world.

Although there’s nothing wrong with getting your berries at the supermarket—look for the “Fresh From Florida” logo on the clamshell packaging—do your taste buds a favor by venturing out to try these strawberry-savoring ideas. (Note: This article originally appeared in the Jan. 19, 2015, issue of Central Florida’s Agri-Leader, http://highlandstoday.com/list/highlands-agri-leader-news/ways-to-savor-share-strawberry-season-20150119/).

1. Visit a U-pick farm. At a U-pick strawberry farm, you’ll enjoy all the sights, smells and textures associated with strawberry growing. At one of Central Florida’s hydroponic farms, you can still get your berries without bending over and straining your back. Hydro Harvest Farms in Ruskin is one option for your picking, said Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Harrell, also known as “Strawberry Sue,” sees families visit farms like Hydro Harvest for their family-oriented activities and great produce selection. I recently visited O’Brien Family Farms in Bradenton with my son and a good friend. We picked as many berries as possible and got strawberry smoothies and ice cream as well as some fresh kale and tomatoes. My friend, who was visiting from Ohio, was impressed by the redness of our berries compared with the supermarket-bought ones she finds up north (and for the record, the ones she gets in Ohio are not from Florida).

2. Pop in to a roadside stand. If you drive past a roadside produce stand this time of year, take a few minutes to park and get your berries there. Although you’ll find a variety of stands in and around Plant City, there’s a newer market in Balm called Goodson Farm, said Harrell. Its store sells berries right from its adjacent fields, so you’ll also get a scenic view during your visit. As you pick or buy berries from any venue, look for ones with bright green calyxes—they are the green part on top of the berries, Harrell said. The berries themselves should be shiny. If you see berries with dry calyxes, the fruit is likely a few days old.

You can be the king or queen of strawberries at Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City.

You can be the king or queen of strawberries at Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City.

3. Attend this year’s Florida Strawberry Festival. Granted, you’ll probably go to the festival more for the entertainment (Bobby Vinton, Alabama, Ricky Skaggs, and plenty of others) or for the rides and games, but there’s a definite celebration of Central Florida’s strawberry culture. This year, the Plant City-based event takes place during weekends starting Feb. 26 through March 8.

4.Now, if all this berry love gets you to buy more than you had planned, there are some ways you can share and store them. Fresh strawberries make great gifts, provided you can get them to the recipient quickly, as berries only stay fresh a couple of days. A friend staying down here a few weeks from out of town was thrilled to get strawberries from me and didn’t even know they were in season down here. “If strawberries are your job, you don’t think about them” as gifts, said Harrell, who said people in her life who don’t work with strawberries also love receiving them.

5. In addition to eating or cooking with the berries immediately, another idea is to freeze them and use them whole in smoothies. Harrell said she’s not a big fan of freezing berries beyond their use in smoothies, as they never quite retain the look and feel of fresh strawberries. Still, it’s another option. By the way, Harrell said that you don’t want to wash berries when you bring them home. Unless you’re going to eat them immediately, put them in the fridge—don’t make the mistake I did of leaving them on the counter overnight and having some of them start to go bad. When you are ready to use them, rinse them lightly and then cut off the tops. If you cut off the tops before you wash them, the fruit absorbs the liquid and they will taste watery. Enjoy your berries at room temperature,

Hydro Harvest Farm in Ruskin.

Hydro Harvest Farm in Ruskin.

Harrell recommended. – See more at: http://highlandstoday.com/list/highlands-agri-leader-news/ways-to-savor-share-strawberry-season-20150119/#sthash.SPbDu7I5.dpuf

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