Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry Adventure: Finding the World’s Largest

Want to go on a strawberry adventure? As spring days become warmer, the trip can be a visit to a festival, a you-pick-it farm, or a noteworthy strawberry landmark. Strawberry ice cream, shortcake, or fresh berries themselves are the rewards for making the visit, particularly in the American South where one place claims to have the world’s largest strawberry.

A fruit with a long history
The only fruit with the seeds on the outside rather than the inside, the strawberry has been a favorite of not only Southerners but others around the world because its sweetness, juicy texture, and bright red color are unmatched. The history of the strawberry dates back to Romans who gathered wild strawberries, but it wasn’t cultivated in Europe until the 1300s. Although it had become a common garden plant by the 1500s, the strawberry from eastern North America, introduced to Europe in the early 1600s, is the variety that is credited by developing today’s big-fruited strawberry.

This variety was popular with Native Americans who mixed crushed berries with cornmeal that was baked as strawberry bread. After trying this bread, according to some scholars, the colonists modified the recipe and created an early version of strawberry shortcake.  

Strawberry shortcake is frequently featured at regional strawberry festivals. Michigan claims the “national” strawberry festival, although many states, particularly in the South, celebrate with at least one festival, such as in Georgia, South Carolina, and West Virginia, and some festivals were inaugurated well before Michigan began its event in 1976.

North Carolina even has two: the Carolina festival in Wallace and the N.C. festival in Chadbourn. In fact, Chadbourn, NC, considers itself as the strawberry capital of the world because it claims the largest one-day shipment of strawberries – 180 rail boxcar loads – picked by 15,000 workers between one sunrise and sunset as well as a historic festival that began as early as 1926.

Florida began its festival four years later in Plant City, which claims to be the winter strawberry capital of the world. Lasting more than 11 days with about half a million visitors, the Florida festival is not only huge but also the earliest of the year, sometimes starting as early as late February.

You-pick-it farms help promote
local economy.
Rather than being satisfied with attending a festival, many strawberry fans visit a you-pick-it farm to select fresh berries each season. Strawberry associations in states such as North Carolina help by providing strawberry farm locators online.

When I was searching for a “strawberry event” to attend, I became interested in finding the world’s largest strawberry at The Berry Patch near Ellerbe, NC (population of 1,021), and I made it my destination one day. Because The Berry Patch, which began as a small strawberry farm in 1995, is owned by a family whose last name appropriately is Berry, I thought that it should be worth the trip.

The world's largest strawberry (actually an ice cream stand) at The Berry Patch in Ellerbe, NC

All homemade -- but
strawberry tops the list.
What I found was not a farm but an ice cream stand in the shape of a huge strawberry about 20 feet tall. When I arrived, several people were waiting in line to place their orders while others who had already been served were walking with cones or cups and looking over fresh produce from the local area for sale in the market area. Although The Berry Patch offers 19 homemade flavors, why pick any other than strawberry? It was definitely a winner and the most popular choice.

Although easily seen from the highway,
signs point to the new location.
The Berry Patch is easily seen from the highway although it had been in a much more visible location near the Berry’s farm. The N.C. state government took that property by eminent domain to construct Interstate 73-74, and Lee Berry, the owner, had to move the huge strawberry stand, which had been built in 2002, two miles north to keep serving his customers, many who are on their way to or from the beach.  It took eight hours to get the four-ton berry stand onto a mover’s truck. Because it was so wide and no traffic could pass, state troopers had to escort it on the slow journey to the new location.

Market area with local produce
Visiting the “world’s largest strawberry” was well worth the trip because the homemade ice cream is excellent. It clearly surpasses a competing “world’s largest strawberry” claimed by Strawberry Point, Iowa, (population 1,463) that is only 15 feet high and stands in front of the town’s city hall without any homemade strawberry ice cream to offer. Knowing that the 20-foot berry stand required a police escort for its move made it that much more noteworthy to visit.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting such a wonderful review about The Berry Patch! My husband Lee & I were surfing the web & stumbled upon your blog. We appreciate you coming out & giving us a whirl, hope to see you again soon!