One of the first strawberry patches in Poteet was grown in 1911 by Henry Mumme. Tired of competing with the other farmers growing cotton, Henry threw out the plow and instead decided to try his hand at growing strawberries. Mr. Mumme figured out the art of irrigation and proved to many around him growing strawberries in this region of Texas could be a flourishing niche. Centuries later other farmers followed suit and Poteet soon became the Strawberry Mecca of South Texas.
The Poteet Strawberry Festival is a four-day event each April starting on a Thursday and ending on Sunday, attracting more than 100,000 attendees from across the world. I arrived early Saturday morning. The air was crisp and the only thing filling my mind was where I would be able to get my hands on the first batch of juicy and sweet strawberries. As I continued to walk around there were booths everywhere selling anything you could think of made of course from "strawberries." At the Festival you can get, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream and strawberry wine.
By the early afternoon I decided to visit with the Poteet Rotary Club. The office was booming with Rotary officers who were preparing for the day’s big event, the annual strawberry judging contest. Each of the Rotary Club members were warm welcoming and carried a profound sense of pride for the time-honored competition about to be conducted.
Soon growers were coming in, registering their freshest and finest patch of strawberries, waiting for the judging to begin. As I mingled with a few of the farmers I could feel their nervousness in the air. Their entire livelihood is put into growing award-winning berries. It was heartwarming to hear their stories about being raised by generations of farmers and how they still utilize their ancestor's growing practices and land today.
Before I knew it I soon found myself talking with the judge, Mr. Weldon Riggs, who invited me to walk beside him as he began the contest. Mr. Riggs taught me there are certain things one must carefully look for before picking out the best batch of strawberries. This process included an extensive review of the following:
1.) Quality of the batch
2.) Presentation of the berries inside the crate (clean and glossy)
3.) Uniformity of the berry sizes and placement within the crate (lined up and not tossed in)
4.) Cut a berry in half and look for a ruby red color throughout (those hollow on the inside may not have matured fully)
5.) Taste the berry and find the sweetest one
After consuming many strawberries I was shortly on my way to berry heaven. I had the opportunity to sample Chandlers, Seascapes and a miscellaneous variety of strawberries. Much to my surprise each variety consisted of different flavors, textures and sizes. Some were sweet, tangy, gritty on the palate, juicy or water based. (Note to self: the bigger berry is not always the best, just easier to cut up and cook with.)
It took the judge about an hour and a half to carefully critique each berry to memory, tasting from more than 20 crates. The final decision came down to a miscellaneous variety to win grand champion and a Chandler variety to win reserve grand champion. Each of these growers were able to gain a combined total of $10,300 for the Rotary Club's scholarship fund and their farms were highlighted and showcased by the Festival's media.
The day was fun-filled, exciting and unforgettable. I succeeded in eating my fair share of strawberries and cannot wait until next year so I can do it again. I would like to encourage all of you 'tis the season for strawberries so do not holdout for long. Go out and find some fresh local sweet strawberries for your own cooking enjoyment.