Olivia Lavecchia

Articles by Olivia Lavecchia

Pasadena Strawberry Festival: World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake

Jun 1, 2011 By Olivia Lavecchia

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.

June Naylor on “Cook Like a Texan,” Foodways Texas

Apr 15, 2011 By Olivia Lavecchia

A sixth-generation Texan and 30-year food writer, June Naylor’s passionate about food, about Texas, and about the intersection of the two: While she was working on this month’s “How to Cook Like a Texan” cover story, she was also busy promoting the 9-month-old Foodways Texas, an organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating all forms of Texas cooking. But even though that project deals with the diversity of Texas cuisine, Naylor didn’t have a hard time narrowing the field down to 10 classic dishes—“there are far more cultures in Texas than we could reflect in the story, but the dishes that we chose are a good, honest reflection of our heritage,” she says. Keep reading for Naylor’s thoughts on what sets Texas food apart, and why she leaves her fried chicken to the pros.