Written by ALLISON MONTROY

There’s something about strawberries. Whether it’s the mid-bite sensation of juice dribbling down the chin or the taste of sweet springtime that tingles the taste buds, California’s succulent, plump red berry seduces the senses and delights the palate like no other. This season, experience the strawberry harvest to the fullest. Here’s our guide to grow, pick, celebrate and taste your way through strawberry season.

Types
Strawberries are perennials. There are three main types: “ever-bearers,” which yield fruit most abundantly in spring and fall, “June-bearers,” producing the largest berries, and “day-neutral,” which produce the smallest berries but will deliver a good yield in the first year. Including two types in your garden will provide an abundant harvest.

Planting
Make sure the crown of the plant is barely above ground—any lower and it will rot, any higher and it will dry out. Strawberries love slightly acidic soil that’s loaded with organic matter (think compost). Space plants 10 to 18 inches apart.

Drainage
Proper drainage is key for successful strawberries. The plants have shallow roots and often do better in raised containers.

Care
In summer, the plants begin producing runners, or stolons. For a small, backyard garden, allow fewer stolons. The plant will produce larger fruit more abundantly. It’s important to pinch the runners in the first season to keep plants healthy.

Sun
Strawberries love sunshine. Plant where they will get six to 10 hours of daily sun to yield the largest, juiciest berries.

Harvest
Strawberries will be at peak picking capacity four to six weeks after blossoming. One harvest usually lasts about three weeks.

Where to pick your own berries*

Underwood Family Farms
Moorpark Farm Center
3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark
(805) 529-3690

Somis Farm Center
5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis
(805) 386-4660
www.underwoodfamilyfarms.com

McGrath Family Farm
1012 W. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo
(805) 983-0333
www.mcgrathfamilyfarm.com

Summerset Farm
3450 Baseline Ave., Santa Ynez
(805) 245-0989

Cal Poly Strawberry Center
California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo
(805) 756-2150
strawberry.calpoly.edu

Tanaka Farms
5380 ¾ University Drive, Irvine
(949) 653-2100
www.tanakafarms.com

* Strawberry-picking season typically begins in early summer. Call before visiting.

California Strawberry Festival

This might be California’s tastiest festival. Now in its 33rd year, the two-day California Strawberry Festival is a yearly tribute to our state’s multi-billion-dollar berry industry. It’s held in the mecca of strawberry farming—Oxnard. Along with a decadent array of strawberries (fried, baked, shortcaked, fermented and chocolate dipped), the festival features live music, contests, cooking demonstrations, arts and craft fairs and a kids’ carnival. Stop by the Community Connections booth to see how the festival has donated more than $4.5 million through the years to charities and local organizations.

May 21 and 22
10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m
.

Strawberry Meadows of College Park
3250 S. Rose Ave,. Oxnard
strawberry-fest.org | (888) 288-9242

 Below are a couple of creative, decadent dessert recipes courtesy of the California Strawberry Festival’s Berry Blast Off Recipe Contest. Enjoy!

Strawberry Coconut Poke Cake

2015 Berry Blast Off Co-Winner Alethia Shih of Los Angeles

strawberries copyServes 8
Cake

2 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup cake flour
½ tsp. baking powder
⅛ tsp. salt
6 large ripe strawberries, hulled and chopped

Coconut Soak

7 oz. cream of coconut
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk

Strawberry Purée Sauce

2 cups large ripe strawberries, hulled
⅓ cup white sugar

Fill a rice cooker halfway with water and place steamer rack on top. Close lid, plug in rice cooker and press cook. Bring water to boil. (Can also be done in a large pot with steamer rack.)
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with a hand mixer on high speed for 5-7 minutes until eggs are light, pale and extremely fluffy.

Add sugar and continue beating for 1-2 minutes or until sugar dissolves completely.
In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet mixture with a spatula until incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among eight ramekins, filling each slightly more than halfway. Sprinkle several pieces of chopped strawberries into each ramekin.

Arrange ramekins on steaming rack. Water in rice cooker should be hot and/or boiling. Close lid, allowing cakes to steam 8-10 minutes, until cakes are light and fluffy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.

As cakes steam, prepare coconut soak by combining ingredients in a medium bowl.

While cakes are still hot, use a chopstick to poke a few holes in the top of each. Do not poke through to the bottom of the cakes.
Pour coconut soak slowly over each cake, using a brush to help the cake absorb as much of the mixture as possible. Let cool.
To make strawberry sauce, purée fresh strawberries until smooth. Add sugar and continue blending for 30 seconds. Drizzle on cakes.

Serve with whipped cream, sliced strawberries and sweetened coconut flakes.

Oxnard Strawberry Coconut No-Bake Tiramisu 

2013 Berry Blast Off Winner Larissa Nelson of Fillmore

strawberries2 copy1 lb. fresh strawberries, sliced
¾ cup fresh orange juice, divided in half
¾ cup shredded, sweetened coconut
¾ cup canned coconut milk
¼ cup sugar
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature*
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp. coconut extract
8 oz. Cool Whip
7 oz. ladyfingers**

*Cream cheese may be substituted
**One 12 oz. pound cake may be substituted

Wash and slice strawberries and place in bowl with 2 Tbsp. orange juice. Stir gently and set aside.
Heat coconut in a single layer in a pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. (Note: it burns easily.)

Combine coconut milk, remaining orange juice and ¼ cup sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Using a mixer, cream together cheese, powdered sugar and coconut extract and continue to beat until just combined.
Fold Cool Whip into mixture.

For the first layer, pour the coconut milk mixture into a large shallow bowl. Dip ladyfingers in mixture and let soak for several seconds. Place ladyfingers into an 8-inch square dish or six 4-inch glass bowls.
Spread half of the cheese filling over the ladyfingers.

Arrange a single layer of strawberry slices over the filling, drizzling a bit of the liquid from the strawberries. Sprinkle with half of toasted coconut.

Add the last layer of soaked ladyfingers. Drizzle ladyfingers with remaining coconut milk mixture.
Spread remaining cheese filling over the ladyfingers.

Serve with remaining toasted coconut and sliced strawberries. Can be served immediately or refrigerated to serve the next day.