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Plump, juicy strawberries roll from Plant City as season begins

In Plant City, farmworkers bring in freshly picked berries. About 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries come from Florida, and roughly 90 percent of those berries will come from the Plant City area.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times

In Plant City, farmworkers bring in freshly picked berries. About 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries come from Florida, and roughly 90 percent of those berries will come from the Plant City area.

Pull out the shortcake and whipped cream. Grab a blender and daiquiri mix. It's strawberry season. You've been to the Florida Strawberry Festival. You've seen the queen dressed in red, witnessed the berries smothered in cream and picked through the flats of ripe berries in stores. Yeah, you knew that strawberries were popular around here. But did you know that Plant City is the winter strawberry capital of — if not the world — then at least the United States? About 15 percent of the nation's strawberries come from Florida, and roughly 90 percent of that comes from the Plant City area. The California competition doesn't hit until spring. That means big bucks for local farmers, as long as freezes don't wipe out their crop. Damage this year has been minimal, so far. So grab a flat and celebrate the juicy goodness of the only berry that has seeds on its outside.

EASY

Fresh strawberry sorbet

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 pints fresh ripe strawberries

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 to 3 tablespoons vodka (see note)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water. Stir until mixture comes to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand approximately 10 minutes. Lightly rinse and dry the strawberries; hull and cut in half.

In a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries with 1/4 cup of the sugar syrup.

Add lemon juice, vodka, and pureed strawberries to the remaining sugar syrup; stir until thoroughly blended.

Chill for two hours or overnight.

Stir the chilled mixture, then freeze in ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze at least 2 hours.

Serve with mint garnish.

Note: Vodka (or any other type of alcohol) is the secret to a soft sorbet. Alcohol won't freeze, and adding a little bit keeps the sorbet from doing the same. Vodka is excellent to use because it doesn't affect the taste.

Serves 8.

Source: Times files

The harvest

Acres of strawberries in Florida:
8,300

Number of 12-pound flats harvested:
22 million

Estimated value of those berries:
$329 million

Strawberries are second only to citrus in agricultural value in Florida

Florida is the No. 2 producer of strawberries. California is No. 1.

Hillsborough is the No. 1 county in the state.

Types of berries in Florida

Florida Festival berries compose about 55 percent of the market. The berry was developed by the University of Florida and is a grower favorite because it is sturdy, easy to harvest and provides a steady stream of fruit.

Treasure berries account for roughly 15 percent of the market. The berry was developed by a private breeding company in Naples and produces dark red fruit. It is slightly sweeter and juicier than Festival.

Nutritional information

(in a cup of strawberries)

Calories45

Carbohydrates11g

Fiber3g

Sugar7g

Protein1g

Vitamin C140% of the daily value

Florida Strawberry Festival

The 74th annual festival in Plant City, featuring big names in country music, runs Feb. 26 through March 8. Weekday tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6 to 13, and free for children 5 and younger. Some concerts cost extra.

Fun facts

• Strawberries are one of a few fruits with seeds on the outside. (The cashew fruit is another.)

• There are about 200 tiny seeds on each berry.

• They are the fifth-most consumed fruit (behind bananas, apples, oranges and grapes).

Sources: Ted Campbell, director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association; Craig Chandler, strawberry horticulturist at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Alicia Whidden, Hillsborough County extension agent; the Florida Agriculture Statistics Service; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center.

Times staff writers Janet Keeler and Stephanie Hayes contributed to this report.

Plump, juicy strawberries roll from Plant City as season begins 02/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 8:51am]

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