Sunday (June 14th), in addition to being National Strawberry Shortcake Day, was the hallowed occasion of our neighborhood Strawberry Festival. In our cute little hamlet in Western New York, our neighborhood association annually sponsors this gathering. Located on a (small-ish) green space a few blocks from my house, this festival features a bounce house, strawberry shortcake for $1.75, a band playing all sorts of Americana, and a variety of rag-tag do-gooders petitioning for local causes. It's very old-timey and lovely.
A few weeks ago when we were discussing the upcoming neighborhood Strawberry Festival, the Man mentioned that his church used to have a Strawberry Festival. He mused, "why is that a thing? Is it a traditional time when the strawberries were harvested? Did people need to eat them quickly prior to refrigeration?" I decided to try to find out.
Indeed, there are strawberry festivals all over North America, According to some corners of the interweb , the first one was held in 1850. Typically held at churches as fundraisers, the strawberry festival went dormant in the wake of the Civil War as other crops became more lucrative. The tradition was revived in the 1920s when strawberries began to be planted more. These festivals often had quite a carnival atmosphere, some offering rides.
Ours is a meager festival in comparison to some of these other examples but, as previously mentioned, we can walk to it, eat strawberry shortcake and the kids get to rock out in a bouncy house.
Additionally, our neighborhood is very mixed religiously and, because we live in an eruv, is home to a large population of Orthodox Jews. I love our mix of neighbors, and I was happy to see some of my religious neighbors I had not seen in a while (this being Western New York, it takes a while for nice weather to allow us to be out and about). This year was the first time I realized that the shortcake was bought from a local kosher bakery and therefore everyone was able to partake in the fun. It is also held on Sunday, presumably for that reason as well.
But, in my (admittedly) limited research, I found out more about the so-called Strawberry Festival. Some Native American tribes named the full moons after the crops that were ready to be harvested in the following month, hence the Strawberry Moon (this year on June 2nd). Additionally, many Native American tribes celebrated the strawberry as the first fruit of the year. A thanksgiving ceremony was held, a Strawberry Festival that preceded those from church bazaars or rotary clubs and continues in tribal communities today.
For all of us, a deliciously ripe strawberry signifies the true start of summer. And it is one of my absolute favorite fruits. Alone, with yogurt, or in a paper bowl accompanying fluffy shortcake and whipped cream and shared with my neighbors.
Do you attend an annual strawberry festival? How do you like your strawberries? Share your recipes here!