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Strawberry festival a sweet tooth's delight

This weekend, skip breakfast and have two helpings of strawberry shortcake, and maybe a chocolate covered strawberry or two for the ride home, during the Floral City Strawberry Festival. The festival starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Floral Park, on U.S. 41 south of the town's sole traffic light. Admission is $2; children younger than 12 will be admitted free.

The Floral City Strawberry Festival serves up fresh strawberries harvested just a few miles away, at the Ferris Groves strawberry fields. The berries plopped on top of your shortcake Saturday and Sunday will have been taken from the bush just a few days earlier.

On Thursday, workers at Ferris Groves packing house begin chopping up a small mountain of strawberries to be eaten at the festival as shortcakes.

Lots of shortcakes.

The festival is prepared to serve 8,800 of them, said Joe Fallon, owner of Joe's Deli in Inverness and also the person in charge of ordering the cakes.

At the Strawberry Festival, it's definitely acceptable to eat dessert first (and then again after a meal). But you'll definitely want to think about having a bite to eat.

Follow your nose to the booth offering fresh-baked, single serving size sweet potato pies and barbecued chicken sandwiches. If you've never had sweet potato pie, then you're missing out on a true soul food delicacy.

Other foods will include tasty sausage, pepper and onion subs. About two dozen other vendors will serve lemonade, fudge and a variety of items.

The festival also showcases local entertainers, with gospel music on Sunday. Each day will include continuous live entertainment, contests and children games. Special features include an antique car show, pony rides, bounce house, a giant slide and a rock climbing wall. The Little Miss & Miss Strawberry Princess pageants will be at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The best way to get to the Strawberry Festival is by taking a free shuttle bus from the Citrus County Fairgrounds auditorium on U.S. 41 S in Inverness. Park for free at the fairgrounds, hop aboard a bus and you'll be at the festival in about 20 minutes.

During peak hours, the line may be a little long, but driving on your own will take even more time and the parking lot might be full at the park. Handicapped parking there is limited, so parking at the fairgrounds is the best option, even during peak hours.

The weather is expected to be nearly perfect. Highs in the low 80s, with cool mornings in the mid 50s and lots of sunshine are in the forecast.

Now in its 19th year, the Strawberry Festival is one of the three main festivals in Citrus County, and the only one held in the spring. The two others are held in November.

Jorge Sanchez covers arts and entertainment in Citrus County. Call 860-7313 or e-mail sanchez@sppimes.com.

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