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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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The Florida Strawberry Milkshake Tour Begins [Collins Farm Fresh Produce In Valrico]

Posted Feb 1, 2013 by Jeff Houck

Updated Feb 1, 2013 at 06:23 PM

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

One of the many blessings to living in this part of Florida is that we sit smack-dab in the middle of the state’s strawberry country. Hillsborough County is recognized as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. I don’t know where the spring, summer or fall home is, but I hope their happy.

Me? I’ll stay right here.

Because around this time of year, right here is home to some awesome strawberry milkshakes made at farm stands with berries picked straight from the field.

I know the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City doesn’t start for another 27 days, but the berries are ready now. So it’s time to eat them.

Might as well be in milkshake form.

During February, I like to taste test the shakes served at various stands. For scientific marketing purposes, of course.

My first stop this year was at a stand in Brandon not far from my home, Collins Farm Fresh Produce.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

The place has a ton of charm, as you can tell by the sign along State Road 60.

It isn’t often you get a double yum on the sign.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

The produce there is beautiful. Truly. The tomatoes range in several varieties. I go there when I need something funky.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Such as these cranberry beans.

Known as borlotti in Italian and “shell beans” in some regions, are high in nutritional value and make a great addition to a number of dishes. They get their name from the appearance of their pods, which are often red or pink. The beans themselves are usually white or cream in color with deep red specks, which typically disappear as they darken during cooking. Despite their name, cranberry beans are not related to cranberries and resemble pinto beans in terms of texture and size.

These beans have a mild flavor that is somewhat comparable to nuts, particularly chestnuts. While dried ones are quite striking in appearance, this is not typically a major consideration for their use. As cranberry beans are cooked, they lose their white and crimson-flecked appearance and take on a more common, light-brown color.

At least that’s what the Internet tells me.

They also stock…

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Strawberry onions.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

And peppers.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Lots of beautiful peppers.

And an abundance of charm.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Such as a mannequin sitting in the rafters wearing Buccaneers kicks.

“But what about the milkshakes?” you’re probably asking by now.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

In one corner, there’s a food stand that serves everything from shortcake to strawberry milk.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

It’s wise to approach the window fully prepared.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Not that your choices will be easy to make.

I, of course, went for the fastball up the middle: One strawberry milkshake to go.

Collins Farm Fresh Produce

Great googly moogly, this was one bodacious treat.

Creamy, cold and delicious, the milkshake’s strawberries were so fresh, i’d have sworn I picked them myself.

They gave me a straw, but one sip made that sort of a waste of time. The chunks of sliced berries were too big for sipping.

I went ahead and tried anyway. Because it’s fun to frustrate yourself on something so perfectly tasty. It didn’t take long to overcome the obstacle berries. The milkshake’s life could be counted in minutes, not hours.

My goal from here is to visit several spots serving fresh milkshakes. If you have a favorite place to suggest, I’m all ears.

You can .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), tweet at me, or hit me on Facebook.

Have straw, will travel.

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