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Trip to berry farm an enjoyable experience - Valerie Baldowski

I made a trip, recently, to a local pick'em-yourself berry farm, and was treated to a tasty reminder of childhood.

For the first time since I was about 12, I had homemade ice cream with fresh berries picked straight from the berry patch.

Someone was kind enough to hand me a cup of strawberry ice cream, with big chunks of the fruit, that put to shame any of the store-bought stuff trying to pass itself off as ice cream.

This frozen concoction tasted the way real ice cream should taste, with none of the preservatives, additives and artificial colors. I took one bite and was lost in rapture, as I was taken back in my mind to the first time I had homemade ice cream.

My brother was still living in Georgia, before he moved to Texas, and he had blackberry bushes growing in the back yard. One summer day, he threw an ice cream party, inviting friends and family members to come over, help him pick the ripe blackberries, and take turns cranking the handle of an old-fashioned ice cream churn.

While picking the berries, it was hard not to eat them all at once. We all found enough self-control to let them pile up in the buckets, before dumping them into the ice cream churn with the other ingredients.

Some of those churns are electric, but this one was not. I cranked and cranked until my hand and arm were sore, then turned it over to the next person. It took forever, but, eventually, after feeding in what seemed like an endless supply of rock salt, sugar, cream and fresh blackberries, the ice cream began to solidify.

I had never tasted anything so delicious in my life. We all gobbled it up while it was still soft, without waiting for it to harden in the freezer. All too soon, it was all eaten up, with not a bite left.

I will always remember that afternoon, and will associate freshly cranked ice cream with the taste of summer. The strawberry ice cream at the berry farm made me want to share those memories, and the taste that can't be duplicated at any ice cream factory, with my guys at home.

As I ate sweet mouthful after sweet mouthful, I realized that if you eat ice cream too fast, you get a "brain freeze" headache. I slowed down to savor the taste, and anticipated bringing both of them to the farm, so they can each pick a gallon bucketful of huge, sweet, juicy strawberries.

Doing something like that can double as a family activity, as well as an alternative to the usual produce aisle at the supermarket. Bringing kids to a place like a berry farm can be educational, as they learn that strawberries grow in the ground, not from a carton on the grocery store shelf.

Feeling the sun shining down on you, breathing in the fresh air, and looking at nature all around you is a refreshing experience. Once I got out and began walking around in the strawberry patch, seeing the fruit peeking out from between the leaves, I didn't want to leave. I could have been perfectly content staying there until sundown. So, now that I remember how much fun strawberry picking is, I can hardly wait until the blackberries and blueberries are ripe.

I may just pick me a whole mess of them for my cereal in the mornings.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at vbaldowski@henryherald.com.