We love strawberries. In fact, I can’t stress enough how much we love strawberries. Plain strawberries, sugar-coated strawberries, chocolate-covered strawberries, whipped cream-covered strawberries, strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, strawberry lemonade, and even, strawberry gum. (I type this list while doing my best impersonation of Bubba from Forrest Gump. I recommend you do the same.) Earlier this year during one of our visits to Tampa, the Florida Strawberry Festival was mentioned in conversation. Chris and I, realizing that we would be spending a significant amount of time in Florida this winter, became very excited and checked online to see when said festival would be occuring. Skip ahead two months and we have completely forgotten about the festival…until this past weekend thanks to divine intervention.
We left Jacksonville not knowing where we were headed next. Typical. Would we go to the Ft. Lauderdale area or to Tampa to see Chris’ family? Hmmmm…. Once we got on the road we learned it was Bike Week and lots of campgrounds along the eastern coast of Florida were completely booked. Not that we don’t appreciate motorcycles, but we weren’t in the mood for a lengthy campground search. And traffic, both bikes and cars, was…well…icky. So, we began our trek to Tampa. Along the way, I just happened to look up and see a billboard advertising strawberries at one of the local markets which just happened to cause me to search once again for the strawberry festival. Oh my goodness…you guys! You’ll never believe it. The strawberry festival in Plant City is happening RIGHT NOW. And, even better, Plant City is on the way to Tampa. Guess where we’re going!?!?
By the time we arrived, it was getting pretty late in the day and traffic getting to the festival was still pretty crazy. I was almost ready to give up but when you are pulling a travel trailer, turning around on a crowded, narrow street is not an option. Luckily, we found a parking lot. It cost $15 to park for the remaining hours of the festival. But, guess what? It’s also a campground! Oh the joy of always having your home with you! So, we were able to park overnight for $20 and were within a few hundred yards of the festival entrance. Brilliant.
We both had visions of a gigantic Farmers’ Market environment, complete with Pick-Your-Own-Strawberries fields and strawberries galore. I was thinking Willy Wonka and the Strawberry Factory or a layout similar to the one from my Strawberry Shortcake gameboard from when I was in kindergarten. Chris apparently had visions of St. Pauli girls walking around with platters of strawberries. Whatever. We were both completely wrong. Not entirely disappointed but just completely wrong.
Instead of being greeted with the sweet scent of strawberries, we entered the festival to the smells of funnel cakes and cow manure. It was more of a county fair complete with carnival rides, overpriced games that few can truly win, a livestock arena and the most absurd fried foods one could possibly imagine. It was also a quality people watching experience. We wandered around watching kids excitedly line up for a ride that would most likely have me throwing up instantly. We were quite entertained by the number of people trying to win a goldfish or two. And, we were amused by the types of food offered. Sure, we are used to the typical funnel cakes and huge bags of cotton candy. But, we both saw a booth advertising some foods that we have never seen before and that also frightened us. Feel like dining at the local county fair? Why not start off your gourmet meal with an appetizer of deep fried butter (yes, that’s right…fried butter). Then, after that first course, go grab yourself a Krispy Kreme Donut Burger and uh…don’t forget to add the cheese and bacon. Top it all off with some dessert of deep fried oreos and wash it down with some deep fried pepsi and you’ve got yourself a true county fair meal. Um…yum?
I’m not sure if this was a strawberry festival or fried foods festival. It’s a toss up. (Oddly enough, I didn’t see any fried strawberries.) We did enjoy some time checking out the cows and chickens in the livestock arena as well as enjoying a good ole-fashioned pig race. Who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturday night cheering on “Dustin Hogman” of the Swine Speedsters as he raced around the track to the sounds of screaming kids? It was a highly entertaining night. But, where were the strawberries?
At long last, we found a hall that contained strawberries. I saw chocolate-covered strawberries, fresh strawberries, and strawberry shakes. But, we happily settled on the “Make Your Own Strawberry Shortcake” Booth where we loaded a bowl with cake, strawberries and tons of whipped cream. It was definitely satisfying. With bellies full of strawberries, we walked the few hundred yards back to our happy aluminum home and slept peacefully through the night with vision of strawberries dancing in our heads. The next morning upon our departure from Plant City, we stopped at a great produce stand and bought a wonderful 1/2 flat of strawberries, freshly picked from a nearby strawberry field. Best. Strawberries. Ever.
[Want to check out Florida’s Strawberry Festival? Go to http://www.flstrawberryfestival.com/ for more information. The festival ends on March 14th!]