For the past several weeks all the buzz has been about Plant City Ė and the Florida Strawberry Festival. Thatís rightfully so.
Plant City may be the winter strawberry capital of the world but we have our own strawberry thing going on in South Shore.
Bet you didnít know that about 2,000 acres of farmland south of the Alafia River produce up to 18 percent of the strawberries grown in Hillsborough County. Thatís not chump change, people. Our biggest producers include Jaymar Farms in Wimauma and Lithia; Astin Family Farms in Riverview; Goodson Farms in Balm; and Morgan Farms and M.D. Council & Sons in Ruskin.
Now with all this berry power, you might suspect thereís some mighty fine shortcake in the area.
I know. I know. Plant City purists will holler no one makes better strawberry shortcake than St. Clement Catholic Church, Turkey Creek Assembly of God or the Parkesdale Farm Market. As a former Plant City resident, I can attest theyíre all winners.
However we here in South Shore have our own champs. Morgan Farms, Goodson Farms and Hydro Harvest Farms make some mean shortcake. Iíd stack them up against Plant Cityís finest any day.
So letís do that. I propose we have a tasting contest next year to compare the best of each area. Tribune food columnist Jeff Houck, Plant City staff writer Dave Nicholson, community food columnist Lynn Kessel, and yours truly could start off the panel. Thatís two folks from each area. Maybe some of our readers would like to join us.
It could be quite interesting. And it might help settle an age-old dispute. Biscuit or cake?
I was at the Apollo Beach Manatee Arts Festival last weekend and did a highly unscientific, informal survey of shortcake eaters who surrounded the Hydro Harvest Farms food truck. We tossed around the biscuit or cake debate, and I was fascinated by the fervor surrounding the choice of one or the other.
It seems the preference depends on where youíre from Ė either that or whatever youíre mama made when you were young. Folks from the Deep South seem to prefer some form of cake, while those from up north like biscuits.
Personally Iím a biscuit aficionado. When I first moved to Florida in 1973, I had never had nor had I imagined strawberry shortcake with cake Ė or for that matter ice cream. My momís version included freshly made biscuits served with lots of strawberries and milk.
I donít do the milk thing anymore; whip cream is a fine substitute. But I canít get away from those biscuits.
So I was thrilled to hear that the new Fern Hill Family Farms Big Red Barn in Riverview will serve shortcake with homemade biscuits after the market officially opens March 30 or April 1. Before you head out there, visit www.fernhillfamilyfarms.com.
Why wait Ďtil next year to settle this? What say you?