Pasadena Strawberry Festival: World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake

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PASADENA—The strawberries start arriving a week early. Specially-designated H-E-B trucks pull into the Pasadena Fairgrounds and then up to the convention center, where they unload 340 flats of berries—1200 pounds. By Wednesday, the 100 H-E-B volunteers are dicing, and at 5 a.m. Friday they pull up 72 six-foot-long tables and start mixing, spreading, and layering. Six hours later, they gather around the final product: the “world’s largest” strawberry shortcake, measuring in at 1905-square-feet. The cake is the headlining event at the Pasadena Strawberry Festival, which celebrated its 38th year on May 20 through 22. Back in 1973, the founders of the festival decided to celebrate Pasadena’s history as the “Strawberry Capitol of the South”—never mind that, today, the only sign of a strawberry field left in town is Strawberry Park, a 50-acre space with a tennis center, swimming pool, and none of the namesake berries in sight. A FAQ on the Strawberry Festival’s website warns berry-picking hopefuls that “all of the berries sold here at the festival come from a produce company,” but with features like mud volleyball, alligator wrestling, ice skating, and the requisite mutton-bustin’ and beauty pageant, no one seems to mind the absence of the plants themselves. And then there’s the cake. Many of the 60,000 festival-goers come exclusively for the giant dessert. Last year, a couple drove their RV down from North Carolina just to see it. One woman jumped into it (she was arrested). Everyone from Pasadena knows about it, but there are still the newcomers who walk into the convention center, see it, and gasp, “Oh my goodness, it’s huge,” while cake veterans laugh at their shock. Held every year in May, the festival opens its doors on a Friday at 3 p.m., and by 1 the next day the cake line snakes through the doors of the convention center and doesn’t let up until the gates close at 10 that night. By Sunday, when the cake starts running low, festival directors always put signs on the gate warning, “We Are Out of Cake,” because if people buy tickets and don’t get their slice, they want their money back. “People get violent when they can’t get their cake,” says festival president Janet Church. The Pasadena Strawberry Festival always had a “Texas-sized” shortcake (“only a thousand square feet or so,” says Church), but it wasn’t until sponsor H-E-B’s 100th birthday in 2005 that the cake got supersized: 1905-square-feet, to commemorate the supermarket’s founding year. The company donates all of the cake product, about $15,000 worth of ingredients, and the generous pieces sell for $2 a pop. And all of that square footage yields a lot of slices—enough to bring in $25,000-$30,000, which goes towards scholarship grants parceled out by the San Jacinto Day Foundation. However, “World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake” is a contested title. There’s Plant City, Florida, which still claims to hold the Guinness World Record for a 6,000-pound, 827-square-foot number. Lebanon, Oregon’s Strawberry Festival also boasts a giant cake, which, according to its website, serves 16,000 people and requires, among other ingredients, 514 cups of sugar and 2048 teaspoons of baking powder. The University of Maryland made a pass at the title in 2006, when it whipped up a 16 x 24 foot cake to feed 50,000 people in celebration of the school’s 150th anniversary. The Guinness World Record website itself lists the Municipality of La Trinidad in the Philippines as the record holder of “largest fruit shortcake,” for a 21,213.40-pound cake that was whipped up in 2004. But that creation is formed in the shape of a giant, 3-D strawberry that goes for weight rather than size, making it a different beast entirely—it measures only 12.31 feet long and 8.42 feet high, with an average diameter of 9.18 feet. And since the Pasadena cake didn’t reach its current size until 2005, despite the official Guinness listing, Texas still has a very reasonable claim to the title. Strawberry Fest-attendees don’t seem to care if their cake is validated with title of largest in the world: This year, the last slice sold at 2 p.m. Sunday, five hours before the end of the day. The festival directors decided to auction it off, and the bidding started at $2, then crept to $5, $10—all the way up to bidder Tania Glover’s winning $100-bill. As reserved slices of cake were brought over to the eating contest, someone pasted up a sign, “Sorry!,” and empty-handed attendees turned around, disappointed. Next year, the Pasadena Strawberry Festival might just need more cake. Watch a time-lapse video of the cake-making here.—By Olivia LaVecchia.

<p><img alt="" class="media-image attr__typeof__foaf:Image img__fid__34767 img__view_mode__default attr__format__default attr__field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]__ attr__field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]__" src="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2015/06/tx_wine_mcpherson_cellars.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p> <p><span style="line-height: 20.7999992370605px;">As you stroll through the shelves of various wine aisles on one of your day-to-day wine-shopping ventures, you’ll probably notice them if you haven’t already—the </span>opaque, almost black bottles displaying simple white oval labels with F, I, E, AR, or CA in large lettering on the front. And for a limited time this month, you may spot the latest addition to the lineup: TX. <br /> <br /> The wines are a novelty project from famed winemaker Dave Phinney of <a href="http://orinswift.com">Orin Swift Cellars</a> in St. Helena, California. In his Napa winemaking career, Phinney has made wines for Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and White Hall. His Orin Swift Cellars has garnered a cult following of wine aficionados who appreciate the bold flavors he blends in the bottle and his eclectic, artistic style.<br /> <br /> The <a href="http://www.locationswine.com">Locations</a> brand was a separate project allowing him to select fruit from quality vineyards in specific locations around the world to make wines that reflect the authentic flavors of those regions. Much like the country-coded bumper stickers you may see on cars, the lettered labels represent France, Italy, Spain (España), Argentina, California, and now Texas. <br /> <br /> The Texas project was an idea Phinney tossed around with one of Texas' most reputable winemakers, Kim McPherson of <a href="http://mcphersoncellars.com">McPherson Cellars.</a> The two met in 2013 at McPherson's winery in Lubbock and, following a few glasses of wine and dinner at McPherson's wife's restaurant La Diosa, had the idea to add a Texas wine to the Locations lineup. <br /> <br /> "This is the first step in getting Texas more recognition as a great wine producing region," says McPherson. <br /> <br /> To him, the only way Texas is going to make a name in the global wine market is for Texas wines to be distributed outside of the state. To date, few Texas wines make it outside of the state lines, most being consumed within the Lone Star State. The lack of national distribution is partly due to the small quantity of grapes produced in the state. While McPherson admits it's a short-term problem, but he doesn't agree that it's a reason to hold back. <br /> <br /> "Right now, I've got just enough that we can at least get wines out there," says McPherson whose McPherson Cellars label is currently distributed in Washington D.C., Maryland, and South Carolina in addition to Texas. "Getting national distribution helps solidify that we're bonafide as a serious wine region. I'm getting tired of saying it when I'm traveling to other parts of the country. But if my wines are found in other states, that just helps." <br /> <br /> What's in the TX wine? A little bit of everything. It's primarily a Rhône blend—Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache—making up about 88 percent of the wine of Texas appellation. To complete the collaboration, the remaining 12 percent is from Phinney's California stock with Bordeaux reds and Petite Sirah to add rich color and a little more alcohol.  <br /> <br /> As of last week, the Locations TX wine is on retail shelves throughout the state, but they're likely to go fast. For this first run, McPherson only produced about 600 cases. Your best bet is to visit a store where you've already seen other Locations labels. (Whole Foods Market and independent wine merchants are a good place to start.) <br /> <br /> McPherson anticipates that the next release could be within the next year. And it's likely to be close to double the production of this year. While Phinney has asked for 5,000 cases, a quantity of that size—roughly 50 percent of McPherson Cellars' overall production—isn't likely to happen for a few more years. <br /> <br /> The demand for McPherson Cellars wines alone has increased his 2015 projected production by 30 percent and he's relying on friend and business partner Andy Timmons of Lost Draw Vineyards to help provide the fruit to make that happen. To date, Timmons has the most vineyard plantings in the state, but most his vines are young and not quite ready to deliver the bulk of what McPherson needs. In the next two to three years, things will be different. <br /> <br /> "This is a start. And I think it's at the right time for Texas. Having our wines sold in other parts of the country is the sort of thing that will trigger 30,000 acres of vineyards in the state rather than the roughly 4,000 acres we have planted now," says McPherson. "We've just got to pull that trigger." </p> <p>Note: Don't read into the number "3" printed on the back of the label. It's part of a Locations labeling code. There aren't any number "1" or "2" wines floating around out there.</p>

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