KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Jessica Orlando, the 2009 Strawberry Queen, gives a helping hand with the hulling at the Strawberry Festival grounds on Thursday night. For more photos from the hulling festivities, click button below for slide show.
By all accounts, Hulling Night, one of the oldest and most beloved traditions of the Strawberry Festival, became a permanent fixture beginning in 1957. Frank Murphy, the most senior member of the Mattituck Lions Club, reflects that “the first Hulling ‘Nights’ were actually held during the day at an old freezer plant on Old Sound Avenue and the berries were kept in a big icebox. It was a day-long event and the berries were hulled mostly by members’ wives, although some men and a few volunteers came and helped. Most everyone had little children and sometimes the wives would bring their children to help.”
Franks says, “It was a nice gathering and social time. We all went out to dinner afterward. It was a very close knit and friendly group. Everyone pitched in and came and served on Saturday. The intent of the festival was to promote strawberries to help the farmers. The farmers donated the strawberries. We always try and buy as many local strawberries as we can.”
“One year there was a big hail and thunder storm. We had never thought about emergency plans before but after that contingency plans were put in place. (According to a June 1970 edition of the Suffolk Times, the Strawberry Festival that year was held in the 40 x100′ tent owned by the Mattituck Lions, it was rain or shine.) The configuration of the festival changed over the years as the festival got bigger and bigger. It is a huge operation now.”
Lion Jim Murphy remembers hulling strawberries as a kid in the old Agway building on Old Sound Avenue. And as a June 2000 edition of the Suffolk Times confirms, “Many community volunteers still fondly recall gathering in the Agway Barn, now the headquarters for Kolb Mechanical…to kickoff the weekend’s revelry.”
Jim recalls that the first festival, a family affair, was held at Vet’s Park in Mattituck and was held only on Saturday. “Now it takes a year to prepare and a day to break down.” Traditionally held at Mattituck High School, Board of Education officials determined the event was becoming too large for the school’s athletic fields and the festival was moved in 1997 to its present location on Route 48, now named Strawberry Fields.
“If it wasn’t for members of the community coming together to volunteer on Hulling Night, there would be no Strawberry Festival,” Mr. Murphy said.