Saturday, February 17, 2018
Cooking

Get ready for the Florida Strawberry Festival with some fun facts

If you're like me, you're buying them two or three containers at a time right now.

It's strawberry season, and the fruit is abundant. The Florida Strawberry Festival kicks off this week as well, and we have little red jewels coming out of our ears.

Food editor Michelle Stark has been home making quick strawberry jam, and has the recipe for you in a quick how-two video on our Tampa Bay Times — Food Facebook page. And as far as fun, we have everything you need to have a blast at the festival, including an interview with performers Little Big Town and a full schedule of entertainment.

You'll no doubt be popping the sweet treats all over the Plant City festival grounds. That in mind, here are some things you should know about strawberries:

• Florida is actually a challenging place to grow strawberries, food critic Laura Reiley recently reported. It's hot and humid here, and we don't have enough so-called chill hours at night to make the berries happy. Add bugs and rain, and it's not always smooth going.

• They're invented in labs. Scientists at the University of Florida work to create berries that work well in Florida. They have names like the Festival, the Florida Radiance, and the new kid in town, the Sweet Sensation, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the state's strawberry plantings.

• The perfect storage temperature for strawberries is 32 to 36 degrees, according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Use the crisper drawer for the best storage, but they only last for seven days under ideal conditions, so eat up.

• I always eat mine straight out of the fridge, but apparently that's a rookie move. The association says strawberries have the best flavor at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge an hour or two before you want to eat them. And don't wash them or take off the caps until you're ready to bite.

• The strawberry milkshake at Parkesdale Farm Market is really, really good. I haven't had one in a long time, but I can still taste it as I sit here and type. It tastes extra good if you sit in the giant strawberry throne at the farms while drinking it. It tastes extra-extra good if you wear one of the prop crowns and take a photo.

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