A Taste of Cuba in Historic Ybor City

A Taste of Cuba in Historic Ybor City

“History is a fragile thing,” says Max Herman, our guide with Ybor City Historic Walking Tours – a family-owned business started by his dad Lonnie Herman.

Take Ybor City as an example – a place that came to be because a rich young Spaniard chose to immigrate to Cuba and years later a hurricane prevented a plane from leaving Key West.

Centro Ybor in  historic Ybor City

About that hurricane – Don Vicente Martinez Ybor (1818-1896) was all set to board a plane to Galveston, Texas. His plan – build a cigar factory there. His cigar factory in Cuba had been successful until he sided with those who wanted a free Cuba. The Spanish told him to leave and not come back.

Next Key West seemed perfect for cigar making but workers kept missing home and skipping back to Cuba just 90 miles away.

A friend showed up at the Key West airport. He too couldn’t leave – the weather prevented that – but advised Martinez Ybor to put Texas on hold until he visited Tampa, Florida where the friend had just been. Tampa had a railroad, a port and fresh water, all ingredients for a successful cigar factory.

So a chance meeting, a delayed flight and history changes. Fragile indeed.

Historic Ybor City became the Cigar Capital of the World

In 1880 Martinez Ybor bought 40 acres of Tampa swampland, filled it in and invited competitors to build their factories alongside his. He solved the labor absentee problem by building casitas, little shotgun houses.

A casita cost $700 to build. He charged workers $700 to buy one – by taking $1.25 per week out of their pay check. Families moved in. They stayed. Italians, Cubans, Germans, Irish, immigrants from many countries arrived, worked and lived side by side.

The highest paid person in a cigar factory was the Lector – every worker contributed money from their paycheck so the Lector would read out loud – newspapers in the morning, in English, Spanish and Italian, then novels a chapter or two in the afternoon. If you wanted to know what happened next, show up for work the next day.

Martinez Ybor’s cigar factory, now owned by the Church of Scientology, has a courtyard where cigar workers once ate lunch. School for children let out at noon then they’d come to the courtyard, play while their parents worked inside the factory and listen to the Lector through the open windows.

We sat in the courtyard and marveled at how different times were then.

Martinez Ybor’s “bad” business decisions like inviting competitors to build with great loan terms, selling houses at cost – paid off big time.

Historic Ybor City casita

He didn’t live to see it but in 1927 Ybor City was named the Cigar Capital of the World.

Then the 1929 crash happened. After that cigarettes, newly available in packages, took the puff out of cigars. In a frenzy of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s many casitas and neighborhoods in Ybor City were bulldozed.

Still the social clubs like the Italian Club, the Cuban Club survived while some cigar factory buildings were recycled to become corporate offices and breweries.

The New Orleans architectural flavor on 7th Avenue lives on and is complemented by the contemporary Centro Ybor shopping center packed with lively dining, theaters and shopping.

Another survivor from the city’s early days – chickens. Seriously. We saw and heard roosters, hens and babies. They are protected. You can’t even pick up their eggs.

Ybor City is designated as a National Historic Landmark District

Ten blocks of Ybor City are designated as a National Historic Landmark District. Our walking tour, 90 minutes at an easy pace, does a big circle of this district. Cost: $20 for Adults $10 for Children 6-12 FREE for Children 5 & under. Payment is in cash. Reservations are required – To make a reservation call 813-505-6779. You receive a text or e-mail confirmation.

Cuban Club in Historic Ybor City

Max’ narrative is fun and informative and he knows every shady spot to stand – perfect on a hot summer day.

We stopped at the only three remaining casitas – on a block that also houses the Ybor City Museum State Park, open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for an adult. Tours of the one casita owned by the park take place on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

The museum itself used to house the Ferlita Bakery, famous for its Cuban bread. Max shows us a nail next to the front door of the museum’s casita. Every casita had a similar nail by the front door. Early in the morning runners from the bakery would run up the steps, slap a big loaf of Cuban bread on the nail, and run to the next house to do the same slap.

Slapping bread on nails may be gone but Cuban bread remains hugely popular.

After the tour I visited La Segunda Central Bakery and held open the door for a person carrying a three-foot long loaf of Cuban bread out the door under their arm. And while I waited for my Cuban sandwich to go, more loaves of Cuban bread walked out the door under arms.

Historic Ybor City foodie alert

No Ybor City foodie alert is complete without mentioning the original Columbia restaurant that opened its doors in 1910. The same family, five generations, runs the entire operation of five restaurants around the state.

Come to the Columbia in Ybor City for the food, stay for the Flamingo dancing. Call 813-248-4961 for flamenco show reservations.

Jose Marti park in Historic Ybor City

The most surprising “factoid” of our 90-minute tour was learning that a piece of land, a former family home, belongs to Cuba. The family willed it to Cuba. It is Cuba soil and has been since 1956. This site was the home where Cuban national hero Jose Marti stayed. Due to decay the home was removed but a mini-park exists here.

A piece of Cuba in Historic Ybor City

So, think about this – you can visit Cuba without leaving the United States. The little park has a Marti statue and trees with plaques from each Cuban province. Max told us the soil used for each tree comes from that particular Cuban province.

And back to that young Spaniard who immigrated to Cuba. Who was that? It was Vicente Martinez Ybor who came from a rich Spanish family. At the age of 14 he traveled alone to Cuba. Sounds really daring, until we learned from Max that Spain had mandatory military service. Rich families sent their male children to faraway places.

Martinez Ybor did well in Cuba, learned cigar making, started his own factory and the rest, as they say, is history.

Max is right. History is fragile. A turn here, a weather event there and history changes.

Visit Ybor City. Take the Historic Ybor City Walking Tour. Step back in time while enjoying the present.

UPCOMING EVENT

What are you doing Tuesday, July 11?

Mark your calendar. At 11 a.m. come meet with award-winning author Lucy Tobias at Bookstore1’s new location at 12 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota. If you haven’t been here yet, it is well worth a visit, beautiful building and great selection of books, magazines, cards, and writing materials. Lucy will be signing her award-winning books and doing a book reading – oh, and hugs are free. You can RSVP here

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Wauchula – go there on 3rd Saturday

Wauchula – go there on 3rd Saturday

Where is Wauchula?

It is the place to be on the third Saturday of every month.

Seriously.

The city’s web site describes Wauchula as being one hour from anywhere – the public relations way of saying we’re small but we are near the big guys – Tampa, Orlando and beaches are not far away.

This southwest Florida town is described as the “last bastion of beautiful old South Florida.”

Who could resist?

I’m all about visiting last bastions.

Main Street Wauchula cinched my desire to visit by starting a new event the third Saturday of every month – Downtown Wauchula Heirlooms & Originals Main Street Market, antique, handmade, homemade.

Wauchula - old fishing lures at Main Street Market

A very long name!

Wauchula is the place to be the 3rd Saturday of the month

The market debuted the third Saturday in October and I was there.

In downtown Wauchula (about three blocks long on Main Street) vendors set up tables along winding sidewalks in the small, sweet Heritage Park, a lovely landscaped park of about one city block anchored with a large fountain as its centerpiece.

 

 

 

Wauchula - main street market collectibles for sale

Collectibles caught the eye. Recycle letters made from a tin roof in Missouri. War posters from World War II next to a box full of old folding knives, a popular stop for men folk.

Home made quilts. Home made candles. All the while the fountain is gurgling and the sun is shining.

Photos from the 19th Century jammed into cardboard shoeboxes. The subjects sat still and stared into the camera. Across the years their eyes look into ours.

Wauchula - portraits from the past.
.

I wonder – what is their story? Why did they sit for the portrait? Novels could be written just trying to decipher the enigmatic expressions on the faces of forgotten men, women and children now faded to soft sepia tones.

I bought three portraits. Perhaps they will tell me their stories.

This first market day was a delightful start to what is billed as a one-year commitment for now. Main Street Wauchula, the organizers, has committed to the Market on the third Saturday of every month, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the next 12 months.

 

 

Wauchula - recycled letters made from a tin roof

 

Do go!

But be advised Main Street has many empty storefronts and few choices for meals. One restaurant sign said it was open Monday through Friday, not helpful for the Saturday Market.

 

Wauchula - Heritage park fountain

Wauchula and Arcadia together make a good road trip

Suggestion:

Do the third Saturday Main Street Market in Wauchula then head south about 30 minutes to Arcadia, famous for its downtown antique district and yes, they have restaurants, tearooms, cafes and an ice cream shop.

Here is a plan:

Make a third Saturday of the month your antique, collectible, handcrafted road trip day. Discover last bastions and small towns off the beaten path from anywhere.

Story and photographs ©2015 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved.

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Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

This small Florida town calls itself a city. Pretentious? Heck, when you live at the end of the road and are a throwback to a slower time then you can be whatever you want to be.

The City of Cedar Key sits on a large spatter of an island, surrounded by more islands and kissed by the Gulf of Mexico. Get there by going west on State Road 24, a straight shot through the woods. Take the two-lane road to the very end and voila, you’ve arrived.

Cedar Key waits for you at the end of the road

Could Cedar Key be the funkiest Florida town/city ever? Yep. Could be.

Where else will you find one resident curmudgeon, the best clam chowder in the world and dogs in every block straining on their leashes?

Funky Florida - Cedar Key walking the dog
Walking the dog is a popular Cedar Key activity. Photo by Lucy Tobias

Plus Cedar Key has Second Street, just a few blocks long with more art galleries than parking places.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Second Street
Sign on Second Street. Photo by Lucy Tobias
Funky Florida - Cedar Key art center
Mosaic art at Cedar Key Art Center. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Dogs without leashes step across the street like they know the route, part of their daily routine.

Add on the Island Hotel & Restaurant, with rooms rumored to be haunted, some of them anyway, and a restaurant that serves great dinners. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building anchors the corner of Second and B Street and has since 1859.

Cedar Key has one zip code and many art galleries

All this and more located in one zip code – 32625.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key pelicans
Pelicans on Dock Street. Photo by Susan Peters

Cedar Key celebrates stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, has two fishing piers, hopeful fishermen, more birds than people, two history museums on an island with a census showing 927 people on a good day, great shelling, snorkeling and finally smiling locals who stop visitors like us to ask hopefully “Are you here to stay a few days?”

We began our visit to funky 32625 with food, standing outside in line waiting to get into Tony’s Seafood.

Funky Floarida - Cedar Key Tony's Seafood
Old doors, entrance to Tony\’s Seafood. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Their clam chowder has won “world’s best” two years in a row. Tony’s, on the corner of 2nd Street and D Street (SR 24), occupies the first floor of the Hale Building built around 1880.

Hale was a busy guy. In 1880 Henry Hale built a house at the west end of Sixth Street that looked out over a bayou called Goose Cove. In the 1920s St. Clair Whitman bought the house, raised a family and stayed until his death in 1959.

The house stood empty for a long time and we all know what that means. Scheduled for demolition in 1991 the Whitman family offered it for free to anyone who would move it.

Local citizens and elected officials formed a partnership with the Florida Park Service. The small red house with a metal roof was moved to the grounds of Cedar Key Museum State Park.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Whitman Kitchen
Table in the Whitman Kitchen, circa 1920s. Photo by Susan Peters

A restoration, completed in 2002, polished the floors, expanded the house, put in furniture from the 1920’s and 1930’s and displayed some of Whitman’s extensive collections, especially shells.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key St. Clair Whitman House
The St.Clair Whitman House. Photo by Susan Peters

You can do a self-guided tour of the home as part of your $2 park visit admission fee. The park also has a sweet museum with displays of Cedar Key’s history timeline. With all the marshes and tidal flats it comes as no surprise that the Timucuan Indians liked this place a lot. Artifacts put them here as early as 1500.

Funky Florida – Cedar Key – eat, shop, soak up history

Back to the food. We waited. Unlike the Timucuans who scooped their seafood out of the water, we wanted ours already harvested and cooked by someone else. After soaking up some sunrays we were ushered inside Tony’s.

Two thumbs up. The clam chowder is seriously wonderful and well worth the wait. Plus I had steamed clams on the side and they were pretty amazing too.

Aquaculture is big here. The demise of mullet fishing (gill nets were banned in 1995) led to retraining fishermen for growing clams in beds in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1997 clam farming produced 100 million clams.
If you like seafood, keep the record numbers going by coming here to eat your share. One opportunity – attend the annual Clamerica Clelebration on the Fourth of July, named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tony’s sits on a busy intersection.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key signs
Colorful sign at 2nd and D streets. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Across the street is Curmudgeonalia with books (a good Florida selection), cards and gifts. The owner is a resident curmudgeon Dick Martens (I am not making this up). This is the only bookstore within 60 miles.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon sign, photo by Susan Peters

On the opposite corner is the Cedar Key Historical Museum housed in the Lutterlogh Building also built around 1880. Cedar Key recycles its buildings and treasures its history.

Just inside the museum door look left to see the arched doorway that once led to the Maddox Theater. The theater is gone but they saved the doors.

A self-guided walking tour has a new color booklet you can purchase with photos and descriptions. The price will be about $10 but the tour guides hadn’t arrived when we were there and the price was still iffy.

By the time we finished lunch and moved next door to plunder a truly eclectic consignment shop called Déjà Vu, we all agreed a day trip to Cedar Key was not enough. The locals are right – stay a few days.

Stay a few days in Cedar Key

Cedar Key is a small place. The pace is slow and yet you can’t drink it all up in four to five hours. Why would you want to? The laid back atmosphere aches for slowing down, for quality time with friends and family, for long conversations and good browsing through the art galleries, then sitting at the beach or renting a kayak and exploring the islands.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key City Park
View of the Gulf of Mexico at City Park. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Consider this – if you are going to stay for the sunset show, why not spend the night? Beats the long drive back in the dark on SR 24.

Suggested excursion: a sunset cruise with Captain Doug’s Tidewater Tours, the cost is $25 per person.
The closest island is Atsena Otie Key and it is here that Cedar Key began as an army supply depot, 1836, and hospital, 1840. It is easy to see Atsena Otie Key from the new pier and dream of taking a day cruise over there to seek out the historical remains.

As we walked around we saw lots of rentals for condos, cottages, B&Bs, homes, hotels, apartments and rooms.

If it is view you want Harbour Master Suites on Dock Street all face west towards the Gulf of Mexico and that means splendid gulf views.

The Faraway Inn, a certified Green Lodging Florida, is pet friendly and sits on the site of the 19th Century Eagle Pencil Company Cedar Mill. We saw happy dogs outside when we went by.

There are 10 rooms at the Island Hotel. In keeping with historical ambiance there are no televisions or phones in the rooms of the main hotel.

Remember cedar pencils? They were made here in Cedar Key

The museums tell the story of all those pencil factories but not a whole lot of cedars to be seen today. They were chopped down before conservation policies. Backack in the 1800’s cedars were a hot item. In 1855 Eberhard Faber set off a timber boom when he bought large tracts of acreage in Levy County and started a pencil factory. You can buy a pencil smelling strongly of cedar at the Cedar Key Historical Museum.

Combine all the timber activity with Dave Yulee’s building of a cross-Florida railroad from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key and it is easy to imagine Cedar Key as a booming port town. The population peaked at 1,887 in 1885.

Now that might not sound like much to someone from Chicago or Miami but Levy County in 1885 only had 5,000 people.

Cedar Key once called the Venice of America

A newspaper clipping from the time called Cedar Key “the Venice of America”. Well, why not? When you are living the end of the line, literally, go for it.

Is the Venice of America a city or a town? It doesn’t matter. Cedar Key is a great place. We’re going back soon and stay a few days.

Speaking of small towns, Cedar Key is one of 20 American towns selected by Budget Travel Magazine as America’s coolest small towns. Until February 11 you can vote for Cedar Key by going to their Web site and casting a vote.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Arts Center
Mosaic fisherman at Cedar Key Arts Center. Photo by Susan Peters

Upcoming events:

Sat. Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. – Historical Society Auction to be held at the Island Hotel. Lively bidding on collectibles including china, art work, antiques and more.

Monday, Feb. 28 at 10:30 a.m. join Refuge Ranger at Cedar Key Library for a program on bats and bat houses. Did you know there is a giant bat house on the Suwannee River that holds 40,000 bats? Learn how to make your own bat house for natural mosquito control.

March 16-20, Levy County Railroad Days (150th anniversary of the completion of the Florida Railroad), events in Bronson, Otter Creek, Cedar Key, see Web site for days and times.

According to George Sresovich with the Historical Society this is going to be a really huge event. From 9-4 p.m. on March 18,19 & 20 the Cedar Key Community Center will have the Ocala Model Railroaders’ Historic Preservation Society Florida Railroad Display.

See the trains. Then go to Tony’s for chowder or get a bowl of crab bisque at the Island Hotel. Want more? You have lots of seafood choices at restaurants lining Dock Street, all with those famous Gulf views.

April 2-3, Cedar Key Arts Center presents the 47th Annual Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. Yes, it is true. Cedar Key is a very small town with limited parking. For festivals, people park their cars on outlying keys and shuttle buses bring them into town.

For an event calendar with contact information see the Cedar Key Chamber’s Web site.

Funky Florida - cedar key - mosaic bird
Mosaic bird. Photo by Barbara Fitos

©2011 Lucy Beebe Tobias
Note: This Saturday Morning Magazine story is part of an occasional series on funky small towns in Florida. Want to share the adventures? Ask your friends to subscribe to the free Saturday Morning Magazine, it is easy to sign up on my Web site, http://www.Lucytobias.com, so they can get all the great stories about undiscovered Florida and beyond.

 

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Dog Friendly beaches in Florida

Dog Friendly beaches in Florida

Dog days of summer are here. There is only one cure – grab your leash and water bowl and head for the beach!

Obi, a Welsh Corgi, and I did just that, winding our way down A1A south of St. Augustine, looking for a dog-friendly beach recommended by Brenda Flynn and her Scottish Terrier Pearl.

Dog Friendly Beaches in Ormond Beach

“It is a well kept secret, not even the locals know it is here,” said Flynn who lives in Ormond Beach. So secret we passed right by the street sign in Palm Coast for the turn because, silly me, I thought that there would be a dog beach sign. Hey, then it wouldn’t be a secret.

The street is named Jungle Hut Road. About half way down you cross a parkway that goes to Ginn Hammock Beach and Hammock Beach Vacation Rentals. Just stay on Jungle Hut until it ends. Surprise! Here is a public entrance to the beach with a paved parking lot, restroom, showers and a dune walkover. Very nice.

dog friendly beaches -Dog signs at Ginn Hammock Beach, Palm Coast Florida
Dog signs at Ginn Hammock Beach, Palm Coast Florida

Leashed dogs are welcome. Clean up after your dog. Brenda is a regular here. She tells me low tide is the best time and in the evening, you are likely to see a dog coming down the steps from a waterfront home – carrying his leash in his mouth, his master trotting faithfully behind him.

Dog friendly baches - walk over to beach
Obi at the top of the walkover stairs to the beach

Obi, urban dog that he is, quickly decided walking on hot sand was not his thing so naturally I carried him to the dune walkover. It is so nice have a dog small enough to pick up and sit in my lap. The sand by the water was much cooler.

Pearl thought the waves were wonderful and she liked Obi a lot, charging at him in the dog version of “let’s play!” He gave me that shocked look “Mom, the women are chasing me” and ran the other way. He got his feet wet at my encouragement but water wasn’t his thing.

We moved on to the Golden Lion Café in Flagler Beach. Dogs can sit outside the rail. Brenda, Per Hans and I sat at a table right next to the rail.

Dog friendly beaches are often near a dog friendly cafe!

Dog friendly beaches - Golden Lion Cafe, Flagler Beach
Lunch with dogs at Golden Lion Cafe, Flagler Beach. Photo by Per Hans

The fish taco was excellent, so were the onion rings. How sweet to smell salt air and look across the street to blue sky, white clouds and an ocean still clean, not yet spoiled by the oil spill.

Finding dog friendly beaches and dog parks in Florida is a challenge. Some are, some are not. Best to know ahead of time before venturing out. One good source is Florida Pets. Get on their E-mail list for regular updates on everything from places to play, restaurants that accept dogs and places to stay. Their motto: “They’re part of the family, so take them along!”

Dog friendly beaches - lunch place at Flagler Beach
Waiting for lunch at Golden Lion Cafe in Flagler Beach. Photo by Per Hans

Another good resource is the Dog Lover’s Companion Guide to Florida by Sally Deneen and Robert McClure. This book is in its fourth edition.

Some towns get two paws up for being dog friendly. Apalachicola comes to mind; here people even bring their dogs to work. Sanford puts out the welcome mat, or at least the water bowls. We found several water bowls at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday.

Dog friendly - dog water bowl in Sanford, Florida
Dog water bowl at Farmer\’s Market in Sanford, Florida

Do you know of more dog friendly places? Let me know in the “comment” section and we’ll post the places. Your best four-legged friend will be happy with new places to explore.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author ‘of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and a freelance Florida environmental writer.

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Picking blueberries in June

Picking blueberries in June

Yumm. June is here and that means the time has arrived to get it in gear and get out the buckets. They won’t be empty for long. This is the season to pick blueberries.

Picking Blueberries and the month of June go together

picking blueberries
Perfect ripe juicy blueberries

What is it about these small, juicy purple morsels? One is not enough. Blueberries are both addictive and good for you, a perfect combination. Eating one blueberry leads to another to another and before long you have a purple face. The whole experience of devouring blueberries is rather like a chocolate binge but without the guilt. One cup of blueberries has 80 calories. What is not to like?

For my family and friends the taste of blueberries becomes extra sweet because we have a yearly ritual of gathering together to go on an adventure and pick blueberries. Somehow when you pick them yourself it improves the flavor.

To find a blueberry farm near you check out http://www.pickyourown.org This Web site lists all kinds of produce places to go in a number of states. Especially across Central Florida the list of blueberry farms is long. The ones that are organic have the word “organic” highlighted in green. We’ve picked organic blueberries at farms in both Marion and Alachua counties.

Picking blueberries is a prime time family affair and so is growing them. B&G Blueberries off County Road 315 past Silver Springs is a perfect example. “B” stands for Bill Hall and “G” stands for Gail Hall.

Picking blueberries at B&G Blueberries is a family project

Here is what Bill said about how it all began:
“I started u-picking Rabbit Eye blueberries in 1983. At that time my two sons Danny and Jason were 12 and 7 and they assisted my mother Margaret Hall keeping the patch open Mon-Friday and Gail, Danny, Jason and I worked it on Saturday. My mother required the boys to pick 10 lbs. per day during the season.
Today their wives and six children are paid helpers on days we U-Pick. This year we spent a lot of time cross training the four older ones. There are six different jobs they do when we are open for u-pick. The six grand kids are ages 8 to 15. I always list them and their parents on the card we send to our customers.”

And here are their names – The Halls, Bill, Gail, Danny, Dorothy, Justin Micah, Rebekah, Ben, Jason, Robin, Savannah and EmmaLee. To get directions call (352) 236-4410 or Email: WDH47@embarqmail.com

Their picking dates in June are June 12, 18, 19, 25,26 and t hen July 3,5,10. Price is $2.50 per pound.

Close to Fort McCoy is the Bay Lake Blueberry Farm owned by Mike & Gail Waldron. This is a certified organic U pick and that means no pesticides! Good for your tummy, good for Mother Earth. The day we were there the Waldron’s daughters were helping customers carry their blueberries to the car and Gail’s mother in law was in charge of the cash register. Truly a family affair. Phone: 352-546-3834. Address: 20525 Highway 315, Ft. McCoy, Fl. and E mail: gwaldron1219@aol.com

In addition to picking blueberries Bay Lake has blueberry plants for sale along with local produce. We like to do this U pick early in the morning, then all go out for breakfast together. It is the food, fellowship and fun thing in action.

Live in Marion County? For more on picking blueberries in Marion County see the blog by Lucy Beebe Tobias and Sandra Friend entitled Ocala Adventures.

Now let’s get down to some specifics. Be an early riser for blueberry picking, so much easier in the cool of the day. Call ahead and find out when they open. Have the address and a map or use a GPS. Many farms are off the beaten path.

When you are there the farm supplies buckets for picking usually with rope so it can go around your waist and you have two hands free. Bring your own buckets in case you need them to put the berries in for the trip home.

picking blueberries - fill the bucket
filling a bucket with blueberries

Wear closed toed shoes for walking down the rows. A hat highly advised and bring water. Carry cash, this is not a credit card transaction. Most farms will have other things too – blueberry plants for sale, local produce and more.

Picking blueberries - sugar hill blueberries, belleview
Weighing in U-pick organic blueberries at Sugar Hill Blueberries in Belleview

This is a great inter-generational adventure. Various sizes of children work well with finding blueberries at different parts of the bushes (that can grow five six feet tall). Little ones pick the bottom, taller ones get the middle and adults find the ones on top.

Go for the fully ripe deep purple berries. Taste one before you start on a bush. If you like the flavor, that bush is for you. Pick them off one at a time. Don’t strip off unripe berries. It doesn’t take long to fill up a gallon bucket.

At home lay out paper towels and spread out the berries. Pick out any unripe ones. DO NOT wash them as they become mushy.

picking blueberries - drying blueberries
Drying blueberries on paper towels. Do not wash them, this is getting rid of natural moisture.

When any natural moisture has dried, bag them up a cup or two at a time and freeze. Set aside a good amount for yummy eating right now – straight, on cereal, in muffins, pie and even ice cream.

Here is Bill Hall’s favorite recipe for blueberry ice cream (one gallon)
2 pints blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
About ½ gallon whole milk
Take two pints blueberries, place in saucepan and cover with water. Add one cup of sugar and boil for five minutes. Let stand on stove until completely cooled. Strain directly into the churn cylinder. Pour remaining peels and liquid into blender. Blend then pour into churn cylinder. Add condensed milk and one tablespoon vanilla flavoring. Finish filling churn cylinder with whole milk. Sir and churn.

Ah, going to pick blueberries satisfies the prime ingredients for a good time – food, fellowship and fun. Grab your buckets and go!

Lucy Beebe Tobias is an author and writer. Her Web site is: http:www.LucyTobias.com

 

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