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Strawberry season is in full swing, and things are looking juicy, red-ripe and ready to go.

"It's shaping up to be a good season," says William Perry, a partner at Smith Perry Berries in Ooltewah.

In spite of all the rain we had in late winter and early spring, strawberry plants at Smith Perry farm were not waterlogged or damaged in any way. The strawberry beds are raised, allowing water to run off, and water does nothing to harm fruit that's already ripened, and that's a good thing because berries are in abundance this season.

Perry and his business partner, Aubie Smith, planted more plants than ever before.

"And the fact that we had a mild winter allowed the plants to get off to a good start," Perry adds.

Perry predicts strawberries will be available through the first or second week in June, depending on the heat.

In the past — before COVID-19 — strawberry picking was a fun way to entertain the kids and get people out of the house for an afternoon. Perry says the farm plans to offer only picked berries for purchase, at least initially, but will re-evaluate as the season progresses, so there may be you-pick berries later on.

For the latest news, check out Smith Perry Berries on Facebook or call the Berry Hotline at 423-228-0774.

Whatever the case, the season is now in full force and perfect for sweetening your day. And this strawberry poke cake takes berries to a new level of deliciousness. It's very similar to the strawberry cake Dianne Cosper once served at Blue Ribbon Cafe in Soddy-Daisy, for those of you who remember that. It was one of the busiest times of year at the little cafe. People began asking for the cake as soon as the first local strawberries appeared on the market.

Using a store-bought cake mix makes preparation simple; letting a sweet fresh strawberry sauce soak into the holes you've poked into the baked cake makes it incredibly moist; topping it with a cream cheese frosting makes it even better; and adding sliced strawberries to the top makes it worthy of an Instagram photo.

 

Strawberry Poke Cake

For the cake:

1 box vanilla cake mix, prepared and baked in a layer cake pan according to package directions (see note)

1 can sweetened condensed milk

For the strawberry sauce:

16 ounces strawberries, rinsed and hulled

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake mix according to the instructions on the box.

Bake cake in a 9- by 13-inch pan for 20-22 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

While the cake is still warm, take the end of a wooden spoon and poke holes all over the top of your cake. Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk all over top of the cake, and spread gently with a rubber spatula.

For the strawberry sauce: Rinse the strawberries, and chop into quarters and again in half.

In a medium-size saucepan, combine strawberries with the flour and sugar; toss to combine. Add the water and lemon juice; stir well.

Cook over medium-high heat until mixture starts to boil and strawberries are softened; gently smash strawberries to create a sauce. Continue cooking at a soft boil for about 10 minutes to thicken the sauce. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Pour strawberry sauce over top of cake, and refrigerate until cake and toppings are completely cooled. This is important because the frosting won't stand up if you spread it on a cake that isn't completely cooled.

For the frosting: Place the mixing bowl in the freezer 5-10 minutes before starting. Beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until cream cheese is smooth and free of lumps. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Slowly drizzle in the heavy whipping cream, and continue beating until the cream cheese resembles a liquid mixture.

Continue to add the remaining heavy whipping cream, and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread frosting on top of cake. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Note: A cake mix makes preparation easy, but if you have a favorite scratch white or vanilla cake recipe that you'd rather use, by all means do.

 

A TASTE OF CLEVELAND

Cleveland's big tasty event is back this year: the Downtown Dine Around, scheduled for April 29. From 5 till 8 p.m., these 11 restaurants will offer tastes of their menus: Cleveland Coffee and Market, Cafe Roma, Catch Bar & Grill, CBC Cleveland, Gardner's Market, Fork and Spoon, Little Diner on 1st (in a pop-up location near the Courthouse bandstand), The Press, Stack Southern Bistro, Mash & Hops and 5 Point Cafe.

Tickets are $25 per person and are on sale now at Cafe Roma, 220 N. Ocoee St.; Catch Bar & Grill, 233 E. Inman St.; and Bank of Cleveland's main office, 75 Bobby Taylor Ave. For more information, visit www.mainstreetcleveland.com or call 423-479-1000.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or at annebraly.com.

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Anne Braly
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