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It's strawberry time in Plant City

There's still roughly a month until the Plant City Strawberry Festival opens in that berry-fixated agricultural hub between Lakeland and Tampa.

But it's not too early to satisfy the craving for strawberry shortcake, a signature menu item at Parkesdale Farm Market, ground zero for strawberries, berry-based cookies, breads and jellies as well as farm-fresh produce, plants and souvenirs since 1969.

At Parkesdale, situated strategically across from the Strawberry Festival grounds on West Baker Street in Plant City, this is prime-time for strawberry shortcake. The tasty dessert, with its combination of spongy cake, fruit and whipped cream, is served annually from January through April.

Better arrive early. By lunch time on a recent weekday visit, the line of hungry strawberry fans extended into the parking lot. Customers order from numbered selections on a colorful menu board, choosing different shortcake variations (with or without ice cream) and strawberry milkshakes. The latter is served year-round.

On my visit, the line moved efficiently and I carried my order (milkshake and shortcake) to one of the brightly colored red and green picnic tables in Parkesdale's "Garden of Eatin'," which is more serene than that corny name might suggest. There are dozens of tables in a cozy greenhouse overflowing with orchids, dieffenbachia, gardenias, ivy, crotons, tomato plants, peppers and herbs.

There's also a cheesy-looking red throne, where visitors can enjoy a photo-op as strawberry king or queen, a momentary title that comes accessorized with a throne and cape. Parkesdale is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week through April. Visit parkesdale.com for details.

For a genuine strawberry queen, there's the Florida Strawberry Festival, which runs Feb. 28- March 10 at the festival grounds. In addition to crowning the queen and her court, there's a lineup of nationally known acts including Alan Jackson (March 3), Martina McBride (March 5), Bret Michaels (March 9) and Blake Shelton (March 10). Visit flstrawberryfestival.com for details.

Nearby, Keel & Curley Winery (keelandcurleywinery.com) offers strawberry wines and freezes from its own vineyard and an inviting deck on West Thonotosassa Road, at exit 17 on Interstate 4. A rooster joined me there, obviously a strawberry fan, too.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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