This is the second in a series about blueberry farming in Florida, centering around farmer Dan Ebbecke and his D&S Blueberries in Masaryktown, a small farming community in west central Florida. Stay tuned for a delicious Frozen Blueberry Smoothie recipe at the bottom of this post!
Dodging intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms, back in April, Mike (“The Real Flamingo”) and I drove 5 hours upstate to Masaryktown, Florida to pick blueberries at Dan Ebbecke’s D&S Blueberries. Buckets o’ Blueberries. Fortunately, the sun came out for us once we arrived at our destination, and we were able to get right to work.
Did you know that Florida blueberries have to be picked by hand? That’s because the varieties grown down here are too delicate to withstand machine-picking, unlike most of their Northern cousins. Every year, the University of Florida (where our Agricultural Extension is based) sends several new varieties to Dan and other Florida farmers, in hopes that at least one of them will prove suitable. Machine-picking would enable the farmers to expand their blueberry fields, and thus lower costs. So far, none has met the farmers’ standards for flavor and quality. And so, the research continues. In the meantime, a friend who grows citrus as well as blueberries, lends Dan his citrus-picking crew (who transform into a blueberry-picking crew) in the spring to pick blueberries. These picking crews, by the way, earn a fairly decent hourly wage – comparable to what I earned as a legal secretary/assistant in my former life.
Most people don’t associate Florida with growing blueberries. Even now, most Floridians don’t know that we grow blueberries! So, how did Dan become a blueberry farmer? Speaking of “former lives”, it was a life and career change of radical proportions, born of a desire to grow things. He tells us that originally, he followed in his father’s nautical footsteps, eventually working in the Merchant Marine. After running crew boats in oil fields off of Mexico for a number of years, “I saved my money to buy land and a house in Florida. I married and had two kids, started another charter fishing business and quit the Merchant Marine. One day I saw a guy selling blueberry plants on the side of the road. I like growing things and after years of not being able to have a garden I decided that an acre of blueberries would be a good thing. One turned into two, then 9.5, then 11, then 13.” Yeah, we can relate.
Not content with merely growing blueberries, Dan began thinking of ways to use blueberries. Wine. And we’re not talking about some sweet, syrupy dessert-type wine. We’re talking smooth, dry, table wine. Wine fit to accompany any meal.
And so do I. While this batch isn’t quite done, yet, I knew after just a few sips that I’d be proud to serve this at my table. Dan expects to unveil the delicious results sometime this Fall. I’m not ashamed to say that I hope we will receive an invitation to return for the great reveal!
But, what’s all this? More blueberry testing? No, it’s tea. We can grow tea in Florida?
“I found tea interesting because they are similar to blueberries in their genetics and requirements. I have looked at a lot of things other than blueberries but most were not practical,” says Dan. Ever curious to discover what else he can grow, Dan Ebbecke is now experimenting with growing tea. Diversification can be a very tasty philosophy, indeed.
We can’t wait to see what’s next!
After all that trudging around in the sun, I’m ready for something cold, light, and refreshing. How about you? And if you’ve been blueberry picking and/or stocking up in this, the height of blueberry season, and freezing what you don’t use right away, like I told you to, you’ll always have fresh frozen blueberries on hand to make this quick and nutritious shake for breakfast, lunch, or midday snack! It doesn’t hurt that it tastes like you’re having a sweet treat!
Frozen Blueberry Smoothie / Shake
Makes 2 16 oz servings (may be halved)
- 8 oz. (1 cup) frozen blueberries
- 8 oz. (1 cup) plain non-fat Greek yogurt
- 6 Tbs. hemp hearts (or ground flax seeds, or a combination)
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) ice
- 2 Tbs. raw honey (any kind)
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) milk
Put all of the ingredients in a blender pitcher and blend on the highest speed for about one and a half minutes, or until completely smooth. Pour into grown-up sippy cups and enjoy.
- If you’d like it a bit less tangy, reverse the proportions of the Greek yogurt and the milk. That is, use 1/2 cup of yogurt and 1 cup of milk. And you can use any kind of milk. I’ve used whole dairy milk, 2%, almond milk, coconut milk (the kind in the shelf-stable box, not the sweet stuff in the can), and unflavored soy milk. It all works great in this.
- I used Honey Ridge Farms’ Blackberry Honey Creme here, but your favorite plain local honey is also wonderful. You can even substitute Freakin’ Flamingo Jam instead, if you like! 😉
This shake packs a hefty amount of protein, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants, and tastes like a decadent blueberry milkshake! What could be better?
Many thanks to Dan Ebbecke for sharing his valuable time and allowing us to pick some luscious blueberries from his field, at no charge. All opinions, recipes, text, and photographs are my own and original to RJ Flamingo and her real-life alter-ego, and are copyrighted materials, not to be reproduced in any form without express permission from the author. Links contained in this post may be affiliate links to my Amazon store. If you start here and buy anything on Amazon, I get a small commission. This does not increase your price, but does help me pay my web host. And buy food. Thank you for your support!