Celebrating Strawberries

Who would have thought strawberries could help build a house?

That’s exactly the intent behind the first annual Habitat Strawberry Family Festival on Saturday, March 1. Having a good time for a good cause is what this inaugural event is all about.

“We want this to be a signature event. The bottom line is we’re trying to generate funds to build one house for one family, which takes $40,000. The city is telling us we can expect about 10,000 people, so we absolutely think that’s do-able,” says Brad Nimmo, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Marion County.

“The sale of anything and everything strawberry goes to Habitat, and that includes everything from smoothies to chocolate-covered to flats of strawberries,” adds Nimmo.

The event, which is free to the public, takes place in the downtown Ocala square area and runs from 8am to 5pm. A myriad food offerings will be available for purchase, starting with the First Annual Pancake Breakfast at 7:30am put on by the Kiwanas Club of Ocala for a modest price per person.

Volunteers from First Presbyterian Church of Ocala will help provide Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and First United Methodist Church of Ocala is helping with Strawberry Shortcake. In addition to “all things strawberry,” attendees will find pulled pork and Cuban specialty foods and favorite festival foods, including nachos, hot dogs, kettle corn, fresh potato chips and much more, thanks to vendors such as The Mojo Grill & Catering Co., Cupcakeables! Kona Ice, Poppin’ Kettle Corn Co., and Bonjoe Gourmet Chips. All food vendors are donating a portion of their proceeds back to Habitat for Humanity.

True to its name, the event offers plenty of family-oriented fun. The recently renovated downtown square will be the site of two stages running simultaneously with performances ranging from music to dance and more by local and nationally recognized talent.

“After the festival shuts down at 5pm, there will be a concert that evening at Citizens’ Circle,” adds Nimmo. “The city is working on having a big name playing, so people can do the strawberry festival during the day and enjoy the concert that night.”

The festival also features a juried arts and crafts show with approximately 150 participants. Children will love the “Kidz Zone,” where activities offer the chance to win prizes and take part in games, arts and crafts. They can expect to find a toilet paper toss, bean bag toss, fish cup, treasure hunt game, ring toss, cake walk, minute-to-win-it games, chalkboard houses and the tallest rock climbing wall in Florida.


Helping Habitat

The funds raised by the first annual Habitat Strawberry Family Festival will enable one fortunate Marion County family to own their own home.

Since its founding in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity International has built and renovated over 225,000 houses worldwide. A grassroots, Christian nonprofit organization, Habitat’s mission is to eliminate poverty and substandard housing and homelessness. There are more than 1,500 local affiliates in the United States and another 70-plus national organizations around the world. Together, they have helped build or repair more than 800,000 houses, serving over 4 million people.

The organization is funded through tax-deductible donations of money and materials and manned by volunteer labor.

To be accepted for home ownership, a family must go through the application process, meet all sweat equity requirements and be able to repay the no-interest loan. There is no race or religious requirement.

“The big deal about Habitat is that people get a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘handout,’” explains Nimmo. “Once approved, a family has to put in 350 hours of sweat equity for their home or someone else’s, plus they have to take classes on finances and home maintenance. The house is sold at no profit, and the family gets a zero-interest mortgage, which typically comes to less than $450 per month, including tax and insurance. Habitat is the mortgage holder. The principal part of the payment is ‘recycled’ back into the organization’s revolving fund and helps to build a home for another family.”

Nimmo envisions that, in the future, the festival will provide revenue to build not just one home for a family but several. He notes that similar fundraising events in Florida for other Habitat communities are bringing in as much as $200,000.

“We’ve wanted to come up with a premier event that would be our main fundraiser every year,” says Laurie Whitaker, board member of Habitat for Humanity of Marion County. “We have already booked the square for the same time next year, so this will become an annual tradition.”

Strawberry Trivia

Botanists don’t classify the strawberry as a true berry because it doesn’t have seeds on the inside. The strawberry’s dry, yellow “seeds” are on the outside. On average, there are 200 tiny seeds on every strawberry.

The strawberry belongs to the genus Fragraria in the rose family, along with apples and plums. The name of the scientific classification was derived from the Old Latin word for “fragrant.”The modern Italian word for strawberry is fragola.

Native Americans referred to strawberries as “heart-seed berries” and pounded them into their traditional cornmeal bread. Once the American colonists tasted this bread, they came up with their own version—strawberry shortcake.

The English and French thought these beautiful heart-shaped berries enhanced their gardens and used them in landscape designs. In 14th century France, Charles V ordered 1,200 strawberry plants to be grown in the Royal Gardens of the Louvre.

Source: pickyourown.org

Sweet & Juicy

The many pounds of strawberries found at the festival come from Plant City, which is widely recognized as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.” Plant City is also the location of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA), founded in 1982. Growers represented by the FSGA produce more than 10,000 acres of strawberries, primarily in the Plant City/Dover area of Hillsborough County. Across the country, if someone’s buying strawberries in the winter, this is where they come from. The county produces enough berries to fill 20 million flats each year, a staggering amount that would extend all the way from Plant City to Seattle and back again, if the flats were placed end to end.

Perfectly ripe strawberries taste like a little bit of heaven in your mouth, but if that’s not reason enough to eat them, those luscious morsels are also exceptionally good for you.

One cup (about eight berries) contains only 43 calories.

One cup contains 3 grams of fiber (over 13 percent of the RDA of dietary fiber), which helps regulate digestion, lowers blood sugar and curbs overeating.

One cup of strawberries contains 136% of the RDA of vitamin C, an effective antioxidant that can help lower blood pressure, ensure a healthy immune system and ward off the development of age-related ocular diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Strawberries are considered an “antioxidant”
food because they contain the chemical compound phenols, in particular the phenol anthocyanin, which is responsible for the deep red color.

The phenols found in strawberries actually inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) in the same way that the drugs aspirin and ibuprofen do, fighting against inflammatory disorders, such as osteoarthritis, asthma and atherosclerosis,but without the side effects of those drugs.

The combination of antioxidant and anti-inammatory agents found in strawberries is known to fight against the onset of many different forms of cancer.

According to a study published by The Archives of Opthalmology, three or more servings of strawberries (and other fruits) per day can decrease the possibility of contracting age-related macular degeneration by over one-third.

One cup of strawberries contains 21 percent of manganese, an essential nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. By increasing the levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme responsible for protecting mitochonrdria exposed to oxygen, manganese not only helps to fight the battle against free radicals and oxidative stress but also lessens cellular inflammation—another cause of numerous cardiovascular diseases.

Manganese is also important for bone health,helping to build bone and maintain bone structure.

Strawberries also contain potassium, vitamin K and magnesium, which are vital for healthy bones.

Strawberry juice combined with honey will reduce inflammation or sunburn. Rub thoroughly into skin before rinsing off with warm water and lemon juice.

Sources: healthdiaries.com, flastrawberry.com, pickyourown.org

Servin’Up Strawberries

Pick up some flats of fresh strawberries while you’re at the festival and create your own fabulous strawberry creations at home. Try these great recipes from “Strawberry Sue” of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

Strawberry and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Try this unusual, but tasty, twist on the popular appetizer! Makes 8 servings

1 whole baguette

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly cracked pepper

1 cup of sliced Florida strawberries

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

4 oz fresh goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice baguette into four pieces, and then slice each in half lengthwise. Place the baguette open-faced on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. Dust with cracked ground pepper, and toast in the oven until golden brown. While baguette is toasting, toss strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. When bread is toasted golden brown, remove from oven and spread goat cheese across each slice. Top goat cheese with prepared strawberries, and serve.

Florida Strawberries, Grilled Chicken and Spinach Salad with Citrus Dressing

Healthy and satisfying, this salad makes a great lunch or dinner main course. 
Makes 4 servings

Citrus Dressing:

2⁄₃ cup olive oil

2 tbsp orange juice

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1½ tsp grated orange peel

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp soy sauce

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and set aside.


1 pint of fresh Florida strawberries

1 (6 oz) package of bagged baby spinach

2 boneless chicken breasts

Bring strawberries to room temperature. Wash, drain and remove caps. Slice strawberries, and toss with spinach in a large bowl. Grill chicken breasts until cooked through on both sides. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes before adding to spinach and strawberries. Pulse citrus dressing in blender to ensure the dressing is well mixed. Toss chicken with strawberries and spinach while drizzling with citrus dressing.

Rustic Strawberry Tart

There is absolutely no easier and more delicious breakfast dish than this. Serve for overnight guests or as a delicious treat to a Sunday brunch. Makes 4 servings

1 tbsp butter or enough non-stick cooking spray to grease skillet

½ (15 oz) package refrigerated pie dough

3 cups Florida strawberries, washed, caps removed, allowed to dry and sliced into quarters, lengthwise

1⁄₃ cup sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp ice water

1 tsp granulated sugar

½ pint whipping cream

3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

¼ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare bottom and sides of a 10-inch, cast-iron skillet with butter or non-stick cooking spray. If you’re fortunate enough to own a skillet that was passed down from your grandmother or other great family cook, that’s perfect. Arrange one of the uncooked crusts in the skillet, more or less, evenly. It’s not even necessary to roll out the dough. It will fit nicely. Note: Most refrigerated pie dough brands have enough product in each package to give you a second opportunity to make a delicious pie or tart another day. Place cut strawberries in a medium bowl; add sugar and cornstarch and toss gently. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Pour strawberry mixture into center of skillet, and fold the edges of the dough toward the center, leaving a 2-inch border so the strawberries are visible in the center of the skillet. The dough will only partially cover the strawberry mixture. Brush edge of dough with 1 teaspoon water, and sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Bake at 375°F for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool slightly. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, and continue beating for about 20 seconds. Stir in vanilla. When tart has cooled slightly spoon into individual serving dishes. Pass the whipped cream. . Note: Chill cream bowl and beaters before whipping. Don’t over whip. Stop when peaks are soft. Add sugar and vanilla at the end of the whipping. Dollops of cream may be frozen on waxed paper.

Sweet Strawberry & Lime Mojito

Strawberries make a perfect addition to this refreshing cocktail.

2 large strawberries, hulled and sliced

½ lime, juiced

8 large mint leaves

2 tsp granulated or super fine sugar

2 shot ounces of white rum

1 cup ice

Club soda as needed

Add strawberries, fresh lime juice, mint and sugar to a cocktail shaker, and muddle until strawberries are broken down and mint leaves are torn apart. Add rum and ice, and shake vigorously. Pour cocktail with ice into a glass, and top off a splash of club soda. Garnish strawberry slices, lime slices and/or mint leaves, and enjoy!

Recipes and photos courtesy of strawberrysue.com.

Florida Strawberry Midnight Shortcake

A chocolate lover’s version of the “typical” strawberry shortcake! Makes 4 servings

1 lb Florida strawberries

2 tbsp sugar

4 jumbo chocolate cupcakes

Whipped cream

Rinse the fresh strawberries,  remove tops and slice the berries. Place the sliced berries in a bowl, and sprinkle with sugar. Slice jumbo chocolate cupcakes in half, and stack sweetened strawberries. Put a dollop of whipped cream on top of the strawberries, and finish off by placing the chocolate cupcake top on the shortcake. Garnish with more strawberries, serve and enjoy!

Florida Strawberry Fool

Simple but elegant, this old-fashioned British dessert dates back to the 16th century and has stood the test of time. Some recommend using mascarpone or fromage frais (a soft, unaged, creamy fresh cheese made out of whole or skimmed milk and cream popular in France) instead of whipping cream. If you want a richer, more cheesecake-like dessert, you can go that route. But for the classic light and fluffy treat, stick with whipping cream.

1 pint strawberries

¼ cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Rinse the fresh strawberries,  remove tops and slice the berries into ¼-inch slices. Sprinkle with half of the sugar, and stir to chop into pieces, about 10-15 minutes. Place half the chopped strawberries and all the juice in a blender, and purée. Pour purée back in bowl with chopped strawberries. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the remaining sugar and vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks. Use a spatula to fold strawberries into the cream, and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to two hours. Garnish with fresh sliced strawberries. You can also crush graham crackers to add a little sweet crunch.

Want To Go?

Habitat Strawberry Family Festival

March 1

Downtown Ocala



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