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Strawberries Star at Santa Maria Festival

Annual event at Santa Maria Fairpark continues through Sunday

One-year-old Jazmyn Rivera sits on the lap of her mom, Lydia Rivera, while holding two strawberries during tasting at the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival on Friday.
One-year-old Jazmyn Rivera sits on the lap of her mom, Lydia Rivera, while holding two strawberries during tasting at the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival on Friday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Not all strawberries taste the same, as some samplers learned Friday during the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival, where a steady supply of people stopped to savor the differences in Santa Barbara County’s top crop.

The 28th annual festival, with the theme of “Carnival Lights & Strawberry Delights,” opened Friday and runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St.

Inside the Strawberry Pavilion, four local growers supplied samples of the red gems for tasting — and scoring. Tasting continues from noon to 4 p.m. the final two days of the festival.

The tasting is a long tradition at the Strawberry Festival, where California Women for Agriculture members from the Santa Maria chapter organize the activity with help from various youth and student groups through the weekend.

“It’s just kind of a fun way for the public to realize that there are more than one variety of strawberries, “ said Nancy Machut, a California Women for Agriculture member who also works for Daren’s Berries. “A lot them believe there’s only one strawberry variety — there are several.

"We like to feature different varieties each year just to kind of get an idea what the public is looking for in a berry. It’s not scientific. It’s a fun thing.”

Youngsters enjoy a carnival ride at the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival on Friday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Four types of berries — Fronteras from Daren’s Berries, Monterey from Mar Vista Berry and two propriety varieties from Driscoll’s and Manzanita Berry Farms — were served up with color coded tags for tasters to score most to least favorite.

Diego Herrera, 11, of Orcutt cast his top vote for the green-coded red fruit.

“It’s sweet,” he said.

His sister, Eva Herrera, 7, had a different choice, saying, “It wasn’t that sweet and it wasn’t that sour.”

The booth expects to handle 1,000 tastings each day of the three-day festival, with a fresh supply of berries showing up every morning. 

At a nearby information booth, California Women for Agriculture handed information from the California Strawberry Commission

“It’s really a collaboration of a lot of groups together,” Roberta Alderete from California Women for Agriculture said of the effort to promote the fruit.

Fairpark gates are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with an assortment of local musical acts, cooking demonstrations and other attractions throughout the Fairpark.

Attractions include strolling jugglers, a trackless train, a petting zoo, a magic act and more.

A wildlife show and educational puzzle exhibit also are free. 

The Midway of Fun Carnival is open from 11 a.m. to midnight.

Nationally syndicated radio show host Dianne Linderman demonstrates how to make Strawberry salsa. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Former MLB second baseman Steve Sax will make an appearance to meet with fans and sign autographs at 2 p.m. Saturday at Center Stage. Sax played for the LA Dodgers, the New York Yankees, the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics during his career, which spanned 1981 to 1994.

He will take pictures and sign autographs, plus will talk to fans about the Steve Sax Foundation, which is dedicated to motivating and encouraging American youth through mentoring and life coaching.

General admission to the festival is $9 for adults, $7 for youths 6 to 11, and $6 for senior citizens 62 and older. Children 5 and younger will be admitted for free. 

However, since Saturday is Kid's Day, children ages 6 to 11 will be admitted for $1.

Also in the Strawberry Pavilion on Friday, the red fruit starred in cooking demonstrations by nationally syndicated radio show host Dianne Linderman with Everything That Matters in the Kitchen. She will provide several demonstrations during the festival.

At a presentation Friday afternoon, she showed how to make strawberry salsa, with sweet onion, Anaheim green chilis, a healthy amount of garlic, parsley, maple syrup, lime juice and garlic salt.

“Pretty weird, huh?” Linderman said to the crowd while adding strawberries instead of the traditional red fruit found in salsa.

“No tomato. Only strawberries,” she said later in response to an audience member’s question before hitting the button on the blender to mix the concoction while ensuring it didn’t turn into a liquid.

“Chunky and beautiful — just like a lot of us,” she added before moving on to demonstrate a salmon recipe.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Small bags camouflaged as strawberries were given away at the Physican's Choice booth during the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival on Friday. Pictured are Amber McCombs, left, and Thania Palacios. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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