Houck: Perfect strawberry milkshake easy to find this time of year
One of the many blessings of living in this part of Florida is that we sit smack-dab in the middle of 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 they’re 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. The Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City is in full swing. It’s time to eat them.Might as well be in milkshake form. During spring, I like to taste-test the shakes served at various stands. For scientific purposes, of course. I always wind up at Parkesdale Market in Plant City. With its Garden of Eatin’ -- the berry shaped throne where you can play strawberry king or queen -- and enough shortcake and milkshakes to feed an army, your life isn’t quite complete until you make your way to this mecca for strawberry lovers. My first stop this year was in February at Collins Farm Fresh Produce, a stand in Brandon not far from my home. The place has a ton of charm, as you can tell by the sign along State Road 60 that announces, “FRESH STRAWBERRY MILKSHAKE. EVERY DAY YUM. $2.50 YUM YUM GOOD. It isn’t often in life that you get a double yum. The produce there is beautiful. Truly. The tomatoes come in several varieties. I go there when I need something funky, such as cranberry beans, which look like they’re made out of wicker and wine stains. They also stock strawberry onions, which are grown along the borders of strawberry fields but have no berry flavor. There also is a mannequin sitting in the rafters wearing Buccaneers kicks, almost as an eye-in-the-sky making sure no one makes off with an orange or grapefruit. “But what about the milkshakes?” you’re probably asking by now. In one corner, there’s a food stand that serves everything from shortcake to strawberry milk. It’s wise to approach the window fully prepared. Not that your choices will be easy to make. You can have your treat with ice cream and whipped cream, only whipped cream or only ice cream. I, of course, went for the fastball up the middle: One strawberry milkshake to go. Great googly moogly, that was one bodacious treat. Creamy, cold and delicious, the milkshake’s strawberries were so fresh, I could have sworn I had picked them myself. The server gave me a straw, but one sip made that sort of a waste of time. The chunks of fresh, sliced berries were too thick 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 was counted in minutes, not hours. It was delicious and refreshing and perfect in a melty, fruity, brain freeze-y kind of way. But my quest to find more great milkshakes will continue. Consider it my service to humanity. I’ll be out there, going from stand to stand, sipping, enjoying and moving on. I suggest you join me. Have straw, will travel.