WILKES-BARRE — The lunch rush had not yet started as Tony Thomas hoped people would warm up to his cold strawberry soup.
Thomas featured it as one of the menu items at his food stand Thursday during the inaugural Strawberry Festival sponsored by the city on Public Square. In accordance with the festival’s theme, vendors were supposed to sell something strawberry related. Thomas did his part by offering bowls of the fruity concoction and strawberry smoothies.
With a blender at the ready, Thomas was prepared to combine ice cream mix with fresh strawberries. “I got the recipe when I was on a Royal Caribbean ship two years ago,” he said.
The idea for the festival grew out of a desire to test the waters, so to speak, and extend the popular Farmers Market to coincide with the strawberry season that lasts for about a month and peaks in June.
“Everybody wanted to come a week earlier and start the market,” Thomas said.
Berit Case was happy they did.
“I always thought the Farmers Market started too late,” Case said.
It’s scheduled to open June 28 and run through Nov. 15.
Case, of Wilkes-Barre, bought the last two quarts of fresh strawberries for $10 from Gino Ardo of OHF Orchard in Bloomsburg.
Ardo was one of the few farmers selling produce and like the rest of them he didn’t have many strawberries to sell. He brought seven flats at eight quarts each.
“We’re winding down,” Ardo said.
“It was a good season,” he added.
Next to him, Lynn Hoagland had vegetables for sale.”I did (have strawberries) and I sold out,” Hoagland said.
He didn’t know what to expect at the festival and for that reason limited how many strawberries he brought. Hoagland, of Elysburg, said if he picked a lot, cleaned them and they weren’t selling, they’d lose their freshness after sitting out all day.
City Special Events Coordinator Patty Hughes was pleased with the turnout. The weather was perfect for the first day of summer and lines were forming at the food stands, selling items such as potato pancakes, french fries, cheese steaks and pizza. “I couldn’t be happier,” Hughes said.
Kelly Purcell, of Kingston, gathered her children — Riley, 12, Rorey, 9, Conlon, 7, Kaylyn, 6 and Kynley, 2 — in the grass and out of the busy flow of people passing by so she could enjoy strawberry lemonade from one of vendors.
“This was a last-minute thing,” Purcell said. They delayed their swimming outing to visit the festival and Purcell picked up some cucumbers to make dill pickles.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.