Organizers prepare for first Natchez Strawberry Festival

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2001

A salute to strawberries will begin a year-long series of weekend events designed to celebrate local foods and promote community interest in the Main Street Marketplace.

What organizers hope to be an annual event, the first-ever Natchez Strawberry Festival will take place from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday, April 28, at the Marketplace on the corner of Main and Rankin streets.

Sponsors include Alcorn State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau and local chef Regina Trosclair Charboneau.

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Charboneau, who is general manager and Chef du Cuisine at Monmouth Plantation, said the food festival is an opportunity to combine her love of food with a love for her hometown.

&uot;It is something I really felt I could do to make a positive impact on the community that I grew up in,&uot; she said.

Along with the support of the USDA&160;and Alcorn, Charboneau envisions a farmers’ market much like those she has worked with in cities such as San Francisco and Minneapolis – a central place where the community can connect with growers and farmers.

&uot;The true purpose of a market like this is to support the growers,&uot; she said. &uot;And being a chef, one of the most inspiring parts of my job is the product that’s placed in front of me.&uot;

The highlight of the Strawberry Festival will be a strawberry-eating contest in which both children and adults can compete for prizes such as dinner at Biscuits and Blues restaurant.

And to balance out all the strawberry shortcakes, chocolate dipped strawberries and strawberry ice cream sundaes will be hot dogs and homemade fried chicken.

Agents from the Adams County USDA Home Extension office will also be on hand with information about food safety and tips on preparing and canning strawberries.

But the Strawberry Festival is just the beginning. Organizers have put together a calendar that features a different food each season, from a peach festival in May, a sweet potato jamboree in September, to a Christmas cookie class and holiday bake sale.

An International Food Fest on May 5 will coincide with the Arts in the Park, an annual event sponsored by the Natchez Downtown Development Association.

Tammi Mullins, NDDA executive director, said many of the food festivals will complement the efforts of the NDDA to create interest and activity in downtown.

In fact, the NDDA’s &uot;Mutt Strut&uot; to benefit the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society scheduled for the same weekend as the Strawberry Festival will end in Memorial Park just in time for the strawberry eating contest at 1 p.m.

Laura Godfrey, Natchez CVB public relations director, said the two events can work hand in hand. &uot;We can mesh the downtown events.&uot;

And between weekend events, people will soon be able to drop in on the marketplace for a cup of Canal Street Coffee and homemade beignets.

&uot;It’s so exciting to me, because I think possibilities are endless,&uot; Charboneau said.

And, in celebration of the upcoming Strawberry Festival, here are several recipes for

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake

2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup kirsch

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter

3/4 cup half-and-half

8 scoops vanilla ice cream

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Combine the strawberries, kirsch and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl. Toss to mix. Cover and chill for two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and mix well. Add the butter and, using your hands, work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and gently mix to incorporate. The dough will be sticky.

Dust your work surface with 1 tablespoon of the flour. Turn the dough onto the floured surface. Gently fold each edge toward the center. Pick up the dough and dust the work surface with the remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Return the dough to the work surface and fold each edge toward the center again. Turn the dough over and lightly press it out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out 8 shortcakes using a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter.

Place them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

To serve, cut the shortcakes in half horizontally. Put a scoop of ice cream on each bottom half, then cover with the top half. Spoon the strawberries in equal amounts over the tops and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately.

Variation: You can substitute praline ice cream for the plain vanilla.

Adapted from &uot;Every Day’s a Party&uot; by Emeril Lagasse

Spinach and Strawberry Salad

For the dressing:

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced onion

1/2 cup vinegar

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

For the salad:

1 pound fresh spinach, trimmed

1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced

4 medium bananas, sliced

1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

To prepare the dressing, process the sugar, paprika, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, oil, onion, vinegar, poppy seeds and sesame seeds in a blender or food processor until thickened.

To prepare the salad, layer the spinach, strawberries and bananas and walnuts on a large platter. Serve the dressing separately

Note: If the salad is prepared in advance, dip the banana slices in lemon juice to prevent browning.

Adapted from &uot;True Grits&uot; by the Junior League of Atlanta Inc.