Earlier this year, Louisiana strawberry fans were treated to a particularly abundant and juicy winter crop, the result of a mild fall that helped fledgling plants produce a robust first round, says Fletcher Farms’ William Fletcher, a Ponchatoula grower and Red Stick Farmers Market vendor.
Now, after a late February break, those same plants are back in full swing, producing the sweet, red-ripe fruit we associate with springtime in Louisiana.
“The traditional strawberry harvest in the state spans mid-March to mid-May, with Mother’s Day being the fruit’s unofficial finish line,” Fletcher says.
Fletcher plants 90,000 strawberry plants in the fall, which he says will equate to about 13,500 flats (or 162,000 pints) of strawberries if weather conditions cooperate. While the warm fall delivered Louisiana growers more than the usual number of strawberries in January and February, farmers still have to navigate spring conditions to judge how the season fares overall. Flooding from April showers is always a threat, but farmers are hopeful the 2022 season will finish strong, Fletcher says.
This month is the perfect time to enjoy local strawberries, easy to source in both regional farmers markets and independent supermarkets. Spin-off products are also in good supply. Fletcher and his wife, Ginger, for example, recently created a line of items from their berries. It includes single-serving smoothies, pepper jelly, quick bread, salad dressing, pancake syrup and other items.
Keep your eyes peeled for local berries on spring menus, too. Rocca is featuring an appetizer in which creamy burrata and grilled ciabatta are served with poached and pickled strawberries, arugula and mint pesto and balsamic vinegar. And Eliza Restaurant’s seasonal strawberry shortcake has returned. The detailed interpretation of the classic dessert features housemade buttermilk biscuits, Chantilly cream and macerated Ponchatoula strawberries, says co-owner Sally Davis.
“When strawberry production slows down,” she says, “it comes off the menu until next year.”
One of the state’s most beloved strawberry-centric activities is also this month. The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival returns after back-to-back cancellations in 2020 and 2021—and just in time. The festival turns 50 this year, and is set for April 8-10, 2022. Find Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival on Facebook.