Friday, February 12, 2010

Strawberries — California vs. Florida

In her Foodie Friday post for today, Sheila @ The Quintessential Magpie, wrote, "The strawberries came from Plant City, Florida, the official "Strawberry Capital of the World" and home to the world-famous Strawberry Festival."

Now I love Mrs. Magpie, but I commented that, "Plant City strawberries are no match for those from California. You would think you had died and gone to heaven if you could taste just one of these straight from the source and ripened on the vine."

Now I don't want to "dish" my dear friend, but Plant City is actually the "Winter Strawberry Capital of the World." The Florida Strawberry Festival to be held March 4th–March 14th, 2010, showcases strawberries a couple of months before California's berries are ready for harvesting. The California Strawberry Festival will be held on May 15th & 16th, 2010.

Before I tell you more about the festival, I have to give you my expert opinion on which state produces the best strawberry. I've lived in both states, tasted many, many berries from each and hands-down the best tasting berries come from California! Now know that I'm not taking about California berries that you buy in your local market. Strawberries do not ripen once they've been picked and no matter where they are from the only perfect berry is the one ripened on the vine and purchased at the farm, a farmer's market, or at a strawberry festival. Nothing says, Welcome Spring, like that first bite into a nice, firm (not hard) berry that then bursts forth with juicy, red goodness. Red, notice I said red. White in a berry is not a good thing. These are the ones that must be covered in sugar to taste good. A perfect berry needs no sugar when eaten on its own. Sweeteners should be enhanced by the berry, not the other way around. Unfortunately, all too often, here in Florida our strawberry crops are hit with freezing temps during the growing season. You've all heard about this on the news, especially this year. The farmers save the crops by covering them in water, which then freezes the plant, young berries and all. Frozen berries result in a unpleasant mushy texture — YUCK! Now you can find delicious strawberries in Florida, but they come no where near the perfection of those grown in California.

In May of 1990, I made the wedding cake for two friends who were getting married (I introduced them). Perfect strawberry season in California and since we were all strawberry lovers, the cake had to have fresh strawberries.

Peter and Cheryl's Wedding Cake – 1990
Made by yours truly — ME!

The recipe was from either Bon Appetit or Gourmet Magazine. The layers were baked, cut into thirds, brushed with cognac, wrapped in plastic for a couple of days to fully absorbed the flavor. Cheryl and I headed out to Oxnard to purchase the precious berries from a local farmer at the peak of their ripeness. We bought two flats, ate a couple of pints on the way home and a couple of more while we sliced all those berries for the cake. NO SUGAR added, the berries were placed on top of each layer (9 layers in all) and then the cake was iced with a white chocolate whipped cream and decorated with fresh organic rose petals. Not to toot my own horn, but while this is by far not the most beautiful cake you've ever seen (though it did look pretty), I guarantee you it was the best tasting wedding cake EVER! There was not a single piece left at the end of the reception.

Back to the festivals — both of these events consistently rank high in festival ratings. I have attended the strawberry festivals numerous times in both these states and throughly enjoy both. BUT, I have to say that California's is my favorite and today I'm going to share with you the

Did you know that California provides approximately
88 percent of the nation’s strawberries?

One of the sweetest treasures of the Golden State, the California Strawberry Festival began in 1984 in salute to the rich agricultural industry that etches Oxnard’s coastal landscape with the tasty fruit that’s hard to resist.

I attended my first festival in 1985 and you know I just had to buy one of the t-shirts with the poster from that year.

California Strawberry Festival Poster 1985

The first seven years, the festival was held at Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor. My favorite harbor and within walking distance of my favorite location for beach camping, McGrath State Beach. Beach camping + Channel Islands Habor + Strawberry Festival = PURE BLISS!

In 1991 the festival was moved to accommodate the growing crowds to Strawberry Meadows of College Park, still in the city of Oxnard and where it is still held. With this larger venue the festival went from showcasing 30–40 local artists and crafters to over 200 from all over the country. There are now 50 food and beverage stands, a wine pavilion, a Strawberry Promenade with cooking demonstrations and a three-dimensional “Life of a Strawberry Exhibit,” Strawberryland For Kids with free rides and attractions, and two festival stages with non-stop musical entertainment.

Best of all, with every bite of delicious strawberry dishes from the various non-profit food vendors, 100 percent of proceeds benefit various charitable organizations, while additional funds earned are distributed back into the community through grants and scholarships to children of farm workers. When it comes to tons of strawberries and tons of fun, the California Strawberry Festival provides the perfect ingredients of an award-winning recipe for helping others. Food booths offer everything from strawberry pizza and strawberry nachos, to strawberry kabobs, strawberry funnel cake, strawberry flan, cotton candy, strawberry beer, wine and more. Whether it’s shortcaked, chocolate dipped, ice blended, or funnel caked, strawberries are the celebrated fruit. If you ever get a chance to attend, be sure to look for the non-profit vendors first! The revenues go toward upgraded computers, new sports uniforms, buses for field trips and team competitions, construction and repairs, after school music programs, and more.

California’s strawberry coast is the best place in the world to grow strawberries. Western ocean exposure and balmy Pacific winds insulate fields from extreme temperatures. Warm, sunny days, cool, foggy nights and mild winters combine with sandy soil, creating perfect growing conditions.

This is Foodie Friday, so a strawberry recipe is a must on this post. This one comes courtesy of Berry Blast Recipe Contest Winner, Renee Pokorny of Ventura, CA via The Strawberry Festival website.

Strawberry Mojito Shrimp Skewers
Over Strawberry Scallion Rice

For Shrimp Skewers:

  • One cup sliced strawberries
  • One quarter cup spiced rum
  • Two tablespoons chopped mint
  • Two tablespoons lime juice
  • One teaspoon salt
  • One quarter cup honey
  • One pound raw peeled and deveined (31–40 count) shrimp
  • Twenty whole average size strawberries, trimmed
  • One quarter cup powdered sugar
  • Twenty (four inch long) pieces scallion greens

In a blender add the strawberries through honey.  Run on high speed until well blended.  Pour half the mixture into a large sealable plastic bag place the remaining into a small bowl.  Add the shrimp to the plastic bag, remove excess air, seal and marinate for 20 minutes.  Remove shrimp from marinade and discard marinade.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to manufacture’s instruction.   Roll whole strawberries in the powdered sugar and then thread the strawberries, shrimp and scallions onto skewers.  Place on the grill and cook for about two minutes a side basting occasionally with the reserved marinade.  Remove from grill. 

For Scallion Rice:

  • One cup and three quarter cup low sodium chicken broth
  • One cup long grain white rice
  • Two tablespoons honey
  • One half teaspoon kosher salt
  • One quarter cup scallion
  • One tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • One half tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • One quarter cup chopped strawberries

In a two-quart saucepan add the chicken broth, rice, honey and salt.  Heat to boiling; stir once or twice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer fifteen minutes. If rice is not quite tender or liquid is not absorbed, replace lid and cook two to four minutes longer.  Remove from heat and place into a large bowl.  Add the scallions through strawberries. Fluff with fork. Serves four.

Presentation: Place Strawberry Scallion Rice on a large serving platter (lined with banana leaves if desired) and arrange the Mojito Strawberry Shrimp Skewers pleasingly across the top.  Garnish with additional mint, lime zest and /or lime wedges.

Tips from the California Strawberry Festival:

To store the strawberries, remove them from the original container with a dry paper towel in the bottom. The paper towel is important to absorb the condensation that berries produce. Do not wash them until just before use. Using this method, you should be able to keep your berries fresh and good for seven to 10 days. When ready to wash, leave the stem and leaves in place. Removing them before washing causes them to soak up more water and diminish the flavor.

The best method for freezing is first cleaning, hulling, and then pulsing the berries in a blender. By pulsing the berries, you have a more chunky texture. Add a tablespoon of sugar to each blender portion to prevent the pale pink color of the thawed berries. Pour this mixture into sandwich-sized plastic bags and freeze, placing flat in freezer. As needed, open the bags, break off a piece of the frozen product, reseal the bag and replace in freezer. The frozen section can be thawed for use on waffles, meringues, ice cream or in smoothies. Sprinkle a bit more sugar over the berries once thawed to prevent pale pink coloration and maintain ruby color. 

 Strawberry Nachos – My favorite festival treat!

 I would be happy like this!

While I check flight schedules for California in May, be sure to click here to visit more Foodie Friday participants with Michael @ Designs By Gollum.

All photos (except wedding cake) and festival facts are via The California Strawberry Festival website. Personal observations are my own.

26 Thoughtful Comments:

Rattlebridge Farm said...

I love your shrimp recipes--you could start a trend with it. It sounds ambrosial. I've got to make this for Valentine's Day (if I can wait that long).

Maya @ Completely Coastal said...

My favorite drink is strawberry margarita! Well I eat strawberries too, but the margarita just popped up in my mind first, ha!!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

You are so right... the best strawberries are from CA.

Lovely wedding cake.


Allie and Pattie said...

The cake is gorgeous, but that shrimp recipe!! It WILL be made here-it sounds amazing!! Thanks so much for leaving a sweet comment and birthday wishes for Allie. She gets SO excited to see comments and followers and all the birthday wishes have her over the moon!
xoxo Pattie

CrazyCris said...

A strawberry festival?! Sounds divine!!! One of my 3 all-time favourite fruits (along with pomegranates and green figs), unfortunately all have short seasons and it's hard to find really good ones unless you live where they're grown...

Sue said...

I've had Plant City berries...right from the market in Plant City, they were pretty darn good. The only CA berries I've had are at the grocery store and they aren't good. So, my vote goes to Plant City, but I know it isn't a fair comparison.

Truthfully, we have some pretty good strawberries in Illinois!


Shellbelle said...

Now Sue, that's no fair! I specifically said in my post that berries found in your local supermarket are not good. You have to go straight to the source, just as you did in Plant City. I've had those and they are very good, BUT strawberries bought in Oxnard on the farms are amazing!

I'm just going to come to Illinois, pick you up and we are going on a roadtrip to California in May, just in time for the festival! Hip hip hooray, roadtrip! And we'll make a side trip to Santa Barbara for shopping!

susan said...

You've worked yourself into full blown strawberry dither!! :) I have probably never had one as good as a fresh CA strawberry. You and I could get together and have a whole strawberry meal from cocktails and centerpiece to entree and dessert! Wouldn't that be fun? Your cake sounds divine and is beautiful! Thanks for all the good info and the wonderful recipe!

The Fajdich Times said...

Wow....that was a fantastic post. Love all the Strawberries. The Strawberry mojito Shrimp Skewers sound delish! And Strawberry Nachos.....who would have thought. They look great. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine's Day:)

Sue said...

You are so funny...I know it isn't fair, but I can only speak of what I know...and having never been to CA, what's a woman to do? At least I was honest about it!

About the picture...just read your email. I had so many comments about it that I'm sure I will be looking for a change...either to the mat color or something entirely different. I have to say it isn't as "off" in person as in the pictures, but everyone got me thinking about it a bit. It will be perfect in my guest room anyway. Good excuse to shop!

nancygrayce said...

I guess I only know the Plant City strawberries which may not be so good this year due to the freeze! You'd think I would have had some California strawberries since my grandchildren live there! I'll be sure to ask next time I'm there!

Vicki ~ FL said...

Have to agree with you .... California strawberries are better than Florida's. I have family living in very southern CA with a strawberry field only a couple miles from my Dad's and of course, they have a little stand right next to the open field and they sell very large, very, very sweet strawberries!!

George Gaston said...

I'll tell you, this is one fun site! You have the best house rules, too!

As for CA or FL strawberries... there is not comparison.... Florida hands down or like those lucky faces at the pie eating contest ~ sign me up! I want to dive in with them.

Your wedding cake is spectacular! It is beautiful.

Oh, and your ipod mix is perfect for Tiki Hut dancing, too.

So glad you stopped by... I don't know how I missed all this creative fun, but glad I am here at the Tiki Hut. I can't wait to look around more.

Have a great weekend ~ it's snowing at the moment in Georgia, which is as welcomed as General Sherman's march to the sea...

Jane said...

FL vs. CA...I have had both, fresh from the fields. And frankly, it was a toss-up for me. I JUST LOVE STRAWBERRIES!!!

Truly, I am a bit partial to Plant City berries...of course, I am a native to the area. When I was pregnant with #1 and #2 sons, I craved fresh Jan and PA!!! My local green grocer ordered PC berries for me...and continued each winter I lived there. What a sweet man! He even grew berries in his greenhouse just for me... Gosh, how I looked forward to that call..."Jane, your berries are in!"
Jane (artfully graced)

Mary said...

Wow...I love all the strawberry festival info! Great pics...would love to attend and sample some strawberry nachos :)

Mary Bergfeld said...

The shrimp have the gods leaving Mt. Olympus. What a great post. I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day. Blessings...Mary

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Well Rhonda!!
I can't believe you made that cake!! Well I can believe it.. aren't you clever!!! I love strawberries but haven't had them for ages.. hmmm thinking of strawberries now!! haha

I was just looking at your last post too.. and for some reason I LOVE pictures of cows in snow!! Not absolutely sure why!! hahaha.. Ok Have a great weekend xx Julie

Grace said...

Oh I am wishing I was closer to come eat some of those lovely strawberries! Everything grows better in CA! lol Grace

Marjorie (Molly) Smith said...

Well, let a Louisiana/Mississippi lady throw her 2 cents worth in, I have had both FL and CA strawberries, BUT only from the local groceries, and they are not good at all, I know you have to go to the source, SOOOOOO, I have to put a good word in for Louisiana Strawberries, they are fabulous and we have the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival on 04/09/10, in Ponchatoula, LA I'm just saying...
Love the Shrimp recipe.

Peg said...

Your strawberries look so good... I can't wait for spring to get the fresh ones. I bet the fresh big California berries are heavenly when ripened in the field. By the time they get to Publix, their taste is often iffy. The best flavor around here comes from local berries that you pick yourself... the effort might have something to do with how they taste!

Oliver said...

I love Your Blog i Will be posting After valentine's day

The Muse said...

ooo who doesn't love shrimp?
i must say that your cake creation...beyond words such a unique way to show your friendship...

and i loved reading the rest of the post about the strawberries!

Lillian Robinson said...

Oh, great! Now I'm hungry AGAIN! Did you pose for that poster?

Joanne Kennedy said...

I agree with you 100%! CA Stawberries are wonderful.

Oh my...strawberry nachos? I must try those this year! YUM!


Kristen said...

H-E-A-V-E-N. This post was heaven. I LOVE strawberries. LOVE THEM. We always went berry picking when I was a kid- such fond memories. And I used to pick one, eat one, pick one, eat one... I could've sat in those fields all day....
Putting this recipe in my recipe box too.... you are just too awesome!!

Sierra said...

Strawberries are amazing I love love them! I had no idea there was a strawberry festival in CA...looks yummy and so do your recipes!

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