At long last, it’s strawberry season!

Celebrate with pick-your-own berry sites, creative recipes and Garner’s annual Strawberry Festival.

Here’s everything you need to know to get started on the “sweetest” of spring treats.

Strawberry Festival

Garner’s very own annual Strawberry Festival celebrates the berry as best among spring’s offerings.

Featuring food, music, family fun and much more, this year’s festival is set for Saturday, April 27, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Technology Drive. That’s in the Cleveland area of Garner, near the intersection of N.C. 42 and I-40.

Hosted by the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, the Strawberry Festival was founded in 2000 and has grown in popularity each year. Last year’s event drew some 40,000 people, said Marlene Hill, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.

New activities this year include mining for gems. The daylong fest also offers face painting and fun for kids, numerous vendors, a classic car show and — what else — strawberries!

For more information, including entertainment listings, visit

Berry Pickin’
Family fun, with a sweet treat as the prize! Here’s a sampling of pick-your-own strawberry sites in our area.
Buckwheat Farm,
DJ’s Berry Patch,
Porter Farms & Nursery, Willow
Vaughan’s Produce, Holly Springs – (919) 552-4635

Cooking with Strawberries  

Caren Smith of Garner began baking cakes as a high school student. Four years ago she parlayed her talent into an official home-based business, Cakes by Caren, offering unique custom wedding and celebration cakes.   

Smith and her three sons enjoy picking local strawberries for use at home and in her cakes.

“Strawberries are straightforward to work with,” she said. “And the redder, riper and fresher the better, for your best-tasting cake.”

Smith shares her strawberry cake recipe here, along with a fun and creative serving suggestion.

“This recipe is great for cupcakes, cakes or cake pops,” she said. “Pair this recipe with your favorite frosting, or a strawberry glaze.”

Fresh Summer Strawberry Cake
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
8 ounces sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
No-taste red food color, optional, for deeper pink or red cake
1 cup fresh crushed strawberries

Grease and flour cake pans; preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift flour into bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda and salt to the bowl, and mix.

In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time.

Mix sour cream, vanilla, crushed strawberries, and red food color, if using.

Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternating with strawberry mixture. Beat for 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on cake pan size, or until cake tests done.

Individual Strawberry Cakes

To make the strawberry mini-cakes shown above:
Prepare the Fresh Summer Strawberry Cake.
After the cake has cooled, place in a food processor. Pulse 10 to 15 times until the cake is reduced to crumbs.

Use your hands to form cake into the shape of strawberries. Place on waxed paper. Insert lollipop sticks into the ends of the “strawberries.” Place in freezer for at least 20 minutes.

Melt candy coating or white chocolate (colored red) in microwave. Hold the cake pop by the stick and dip into the chocolate. Place cakes on waxed paper and allow to dry completely.

Melt both white chocolate and milk chocolate in microwave. Dip again in either of the chocolates. After the chocolate has dried, decorate with drizzled chocolate. If adding nuts, sprinkle before chocolate sets.

Take the stick out and cover the hole with a fondant leaf and stem. If not using fondant, a green Tootsie Roll softened and shaped will work, too.

Notes: Candy coating can be purchased in the baking section of the grocery store, or at a craft store, in an array of colors. Follow package directions for melting. Fondant can be purchased at a craft store and tinted to desired color.

Recipe and directions courtesy Caren Smith, Cakes by Caren

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