Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blueberry Nirvana

I woke up one Saturday morning a few weeks ago with a wild hair to go pick blueberries. It all started the previous day when a friend and I stopped by Keel and Curley Winery in Plant City and discovered it was hosting the Tampa Bay Blueberry Festival.

It just so happens this winery produces blueberry wine and boasts acres of hearty blueberry bushes. Blueberry wine is something unfamiliar to me, but Keel and Curley has a lovely tasting bar housed in what seems to be a new building stocked with the fruits of their labor. Our palates did not appreciate the sweetness of this wine, but yours might. We did like the slushy-type frozen drink they offered in mango or blueberry flavors. They warned us it's loaded with alcohol. Pool party! On our way out, we picked up a promotional postcard advertising U-pick blueberries as part of the festival activities.

The next day was blueberry-picking day. I drove out to the winery, which is located a short distance off I-4 in Plant City, and merged into festival traffic. Wow! I didn't realize this event would draw such a crowd. After spending a half-hour in a line of cars waiting to park, I entered the wonderful world of blueberries. As I headed to the fields, I passed a line of fellow pickers waiting to check out. This wasn't just any line. It rivaled the lines for a new roller coaster at Busch Gardens. I almost bolted for my car, but I had waited in that traffic and, by golly, I was going to get my $3/lb. berries.

During my hour or more in the peaceful fields, I noticed people from all walks of life enjoying the ingenuous task of picking berries. I saw young adults, families, older folks, rich, poor, black, white, yellow and brown people. It's remarkable how something as simple as a berry can unite such a diverse group of people.

By the time I filled my bucket, someone had figured out how to get that line moving and it was only about 20-people deep. I left with five pounds of beautifully ripe blueberries, clothes soaked in perspiration and an overwhelming desire to make jam. And that's just what I did.

If you would like to pick your own fruits and vegetables, check out this Web site: http://www.pickyourown.org/. It lists U-pick farms and contains recipes and advice.

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