Berry sweet proposal to designate official ‘state dessert’ gets a Senate sponsor

Strawberry Short Cake Made with Angel Food Cake and Strawberry Sauce
The proposal to give strawberry shortcake an official designation reflects Central Florida's growing political clout.

Momentum is building — think of whipped cream about to be released from a can — to elevate the strawberry shortcake as Florida’s official state dessert

Shortly after Rep. Lawrence McClure’s legislation (HB 567) proposed the dessert become one of the state’s venerated official symbols, Sen. Danny Burgess filed an identical bill (SB 1006).

“You know, I think it’s time that we all stand tall for shortcake,” Burgess joked.

Seriously though, Burgess said, strawberries are a way of life in Senate District 20, which includes parts of Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties, some of the state’s prime strawberry picking grounds.

“With the significant impact this fruit bears on the state’s economy … we’re going to give the strawberry shortcake its due and the recognition it’s always deserved,” Burgess said. “You see what I did there?”

Some might remember the pie wars, in which South Florida battled it out with North Florida for Key Lime pie’s superiority over pecan pie. So, it might seem inevitable that Central Florida take advantage of its growing political clout to heighten the stature of its primo product.

Advantage berry: It’s going to be peak season for the product, which ships all over the United States, when the Legislature convenes in January.

But the idea of designating an official “state dessert” produced immediate pushback from crusty traditionalists who don’t believe Florida’s official symbols should include two helpings of sweets. Also, there are those who believe that nothing says “Florida” like Key Lime pie.

“KEY LIME,” Rep. Michelle Salzman of Escambia County, tweeted back at Burgess’ announcement of his legislative proposal.

Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor, sees a great opportunity for bipartisan action in this fruity dilemma, however.

“I would hope that the Key Lime defenders can come to a compromise with the strawberry lovers,” Jewett said. “Finally, in this age of partisan rancor, the split won’t be along party lines.”

South Florida Sen. Tina Polsky sees an opportunity for some political deal-making.

“I’ll support strawberry shortcake for official state dessert if they support the scrub jay for state bird,” Polsky said, referencing her legislation (SB 378) to knock the mockingbird from the official perch it’s occupied since 1927 in favor of the scrub jay.

She’s not one to hew to regional tastes, however.

“No offense to my South Florida peeps, but … I would much prefer the strawberry shortcake,” Polsky said.

Jewett says he’s confident strawberry proponents will rise to the occasion, and compromise. Maybe “official dessert” can be narrowed and strawberry shortcake become the official state cake?

Burgess is not so sure that strawberry shortcake qualifies as “cake” — even if it’s in the name.

“It seems like more of a biscuit,” he mused.

The irony of the bill’s next stop is not lost on all. The House Bill that would make strawberry shortcake the official dessert is now in the Public Integrity and Elections Committee, or if you slap an acronym on it, “PIE.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


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