WATERVILLE — Nursing homes aren’t usually known for their fine dining. But at the annual Taste of Waterville event showcasing the area’s cuisine, Oak Grove Center is responsible for one of the evening’s best-sellers: strawberry shortcake.

While the senior living facility consistently sells out of the dessert year after year, few people know the extra care that goes into the dish. The majority of the strawberries are hand-picked by a handful of the center’s employees and residents. Chefs at Oak Grove also make homemade biscuits — this year, 350 of them.

“People don’t know because they’ve never asked,” said Ellie Gould, the recreation therapy director at Oak Grove.

Gould said that this year, volunteers gathered the fruit for about four hours in the summer heat. She was unsure about whether they came from one farm in particular.

“It was just a big field of strawberries in Fairfield Center,” she said.

“It’s a horrible process,” Gould added, as one of her co-workers chuckled knowingly. “I dislike picking strawberries. So I chat with everybody that’s picking. The others all pick. It was fun, but you know — so they decided to make me the greeter, I suppose you could call me. I didn’t like picking those darn strawberries.”

But the payoff is worth it, Gold noted. The dish, which the group sells for $5 a piece, supports a wide range of programming at the nursing home. Oak Grove also serves hot dogs, chips, soda and bottled water at the event. In recent years, over 10,000 people have attended the one-day festival, according to organizers from the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the event.

Adrea Jones, 5, digs in to her strawberry shortcake at the annual Taste of Waterville on Main Street in downtown Waterville on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year,” Gould explained. “We make hundreds. Hundreds. The money goes to the residents for camp, for outings. Some residents don’t have the money for (those activities), and we don’t want to not include them, so this is what it all goes to.”

Attendees of the 28th Taste of Waterville event Wednesday gave the strawberry shortcake positive reviews.

“It’s really good,” said Angie Diedricksen, 10, of Stoughton, Massachusetts, as her father brought another dish over to share with the family, in his words: “Before they run out.” The Diedricksen family vacations in the Waterville area every summer and noted that the Taste of Waterville is an event they look forward to.

Noreen Golden, 70, of Oakland, agreed, calling the fruit, biscuit and whipped cream dish “delicious.” Golden also noted that she attends the festival every year.

Programming for the Taste of Waterville started at 11 a.m. and lasted until just before midnight, with events stretched out across the day. They ranged from an Waterville Humane Society adoption event and a mobile exhibit by the Children’s Discovery Museum to a meatball eating contest and a parade featuring former Red Sox player Mike Timlin. Live music and dance performances in a closed-to-car-traffic Main Street entertained diners as they browsed food and drink offerings from over 19 local restaurants.

Golden said that watching her granddaughter perform a dance routine was one of the highlights for her.

“I haven’t been here very long, but I’m enjoying it so far,” she added.

Sheila Bonenfant, 79, of Benton, noted that this year’s event was particularly lively.

“I think a lot of the people are younger — but that’s probably because I’m old,” she joked. For her, coming to the Taste of Waterville is about “seeing people I haven’t seen in ages.”

Plus, a good sausage sandwich from The Gouda Boys, out of Winslow, didn’t hurt.

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