All hail the strawberry.
Now in its 60th year, the Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry Festival jump-starts the season on the North Fork, aimed at the peak of strawberry season there.
Proceeds benefit myriad charities, many on the North Fork, such as Peconic Bay Medical Center, Special Olympics and local sports leagues as well as the Lions Club's main mission, to help the vision-impaired.
"It's absolutely the North Fork kickoff for the entire summer season," says Phil Centonze, past president of the Lions Club.
If you love strawberries, this is the place to be. On an expansive piece of land owned by the county, participants hull tens of thousands of strawberries for the making of all sorts of culinary delights, including the festival's famous strawberry shortcake. Other treats are chocolate-covered strawberries, strawberry pies and nonalcoholic strawberry daiquiris.
To celebrate the 60-year tradition, for the first time a circus high-wire act will be there to wow the crowds, says Centonze.
While many of the strawberries come from local farms, the festival trucks in crates full of the fruit from other areas as well, says Centonze, to keep up with demand. More than 10,000 people attend each day, and that's a lot of strawberries to have on the ready, especially with the late start to spring making this year's peak season unpredictable.
Among the festivities will be the announcement of the Strawberry Queen, a deserving high school senior whose community service has made her the winner of a Lion's Club scholarship. She will be presented with the glittered strawberry scepter and red sash.
HULLING THE BERRIES
Each year, the party atmosphere starts when hundreds of volunteers come to the site at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to hull thousands of strawberries. For many, it's a tradition and a way to socialize with friends. Everyone is invited, says Centonze.
"It's under a huge tent, with food and beverages, and door prizes to give away," he says of what they offer volunteers. "Anyone can come. Put on an apron, put on gloves, and come down and help."
Along with the strawberry eating binge, there's a carnival going on.
Reithoffer Shows is usually the amusement ride company found at state fairs, which Centonze says has the largest transportable Ferris wheel. "You can see Greenport from the top," he adds.
Food trucks will be selling funnel cakes, hot dogs and hamburgers and sodas, too.
RobertKeith Toman, 18, of Southold, attends the festival each year with his friends, riding The Zipper and The Gravitron, two of the more popular rides.
He loves that it brings people from all over to his part of town.
"Families come out, and people come from the city," he says. "It's a very nice thing to see."
There will be booths with homemade crafts and games, as well.
Fireworks, on both Friday and Saturday nights starting around 9:30 p.m., will be bigger and better this year, too, say organizers.
WHEN | WHERE 6:30-11 p.m. Thursday. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at 1175 Route 48, Mattituck
PARKING Those coming from the west should park at Martha Clara Event Grounds (Herrick's Lane, half-mile south of Sound Avenue, Jamesport), where shuttle buses will run continuously to the festival.
ADMISSION Thursday: Free ($20 ride bracelets); Friday: $5 ($2 ages 6-11 Friday) Saturday-Sunday: $7 ($3 ages 6-11) with free admission for dads on Sunday with paid child admission. $30 ride bracelets