The Blueberry Patch: Head to Mansfield to pick your own plump berries
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The Blueberry Patch

Head to Mansfield to pick your own plump berries


If you typically avoid the tasteless blueberries that often populate your local supermarket, there’s no need to plan a trip to Maine to pick your own. Just head to the Blueberry Patch in Mansfield.

The Blueberry Patch is Ohio’s largest blueberry farm, 45 minutes northeast of Columbus. Steve and Lisa Beilstein began planting the now well-established bushes in 1981, and their foresight has paid off. The 27-acre patch yields plump, tasty berries that are easy to pick.

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Seventeen varieties of blueberries grow in the ideal sandy and acidy soil where thousands of honeybees are needed per acre for pollination.

Blueberry season is from late June through August. We arrived in late July to pick mid-season berries called Blue Ray, which are large and flavorful. Each member of our family was given a plastic bucket to take to a designated area in the patch. Rows and rows of bushes were loaded with blueberries, ready to pluck at our leisure. We combined our buckets into one then had them weighed. We paid $20 for four pounds of berries.

Stick around to see all the blueberry products in the gift shop. Troyer Home Pantry in Apple Creek, Ohio, uses the blueberries to make pies and jams. Also on site is a greenhouse, coffee beanery and Blossoms Cafe, where you can get brunch after morning berry picking, which begins daily at 8 a.m. The cafe is open until 4 p.m.

I had the quiche with a warm blueberry muffin, fresh fruit salad and blueberry iced tea, which was delicious. Of course you also can get blueberry smoothies, shakes and parfaits.

On a future trip, I’ll take time to enjoy the onsite winery aptly called Winery 1285 for its address. Sample a selection of wines including dry and sweet blueberry varieties, order wood-fired pizza or even participate in a “wine and paint” party. This handsome bar could fit into a vibrant Columbus neighborhood.

Once home, Mike transformed our blueberries into tasty scones, a sauce for angel-food cake and frozen yogurt.

Can’t make it to Mansfield in the near future? Blueberry Patch berries also are sold at central Ohio farmers markets including the Clintonville and Worthington markets.

The Blueberry Patch is located at 1285 W. Hanley Rd., in Mansfield. For more information, call 419-884-1797 or visit theblueberrypatch.org.

Malabar Farm: Former home of American author Louis Bromfield becomes merry gathering spot for barn dances
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Malabar Farm: Barn Dances

Former home of American author Louis Bromfield becomes merry gathering spot for barn dances


All is quiet inside the spacious barn, located in the middle of Ohio. It’s chilly outside on this late September evening, and the rising full moon is visible through a small window. The scent of hay prevails as a horse in the field whinnies.

Moments later the tranquility is broken by the cacophony of more than 300 people laughing, clapping and stomping their feet to the sounds of a square-dance band. The gala is called the “Harvest Barn Dance,” and it’s one of a half dozen barn dances held from April through October at Malabar Farm State Park near Mansfield.

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Many of the revelers have traveled hours from around Ohio to attend this wholesome, countryside event. They find good company. These happy barn dances are hopping with folks seeking out fun in a setting that reflects a simpler time.

“A square dance is a family event,” says Valerie Norman, who drove two hours from Zanesville to direct the moves of the participants as the event’s “caller.”

Barn dances at Malabar Farm date back to the late ’70s. Then, they were held in a barn built in 1890 that once belonged to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, who lived on the property until his death in 1956. Bromfield, also an innovative farmer, hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities and even held his own barn dances. The historic barn burned down in 1993 and was rebuilt the following year in the same timber-framed style.

The farm in Richland County is a perfect setting for a square dance. Situated among rolling hills, it contains Bromfield’s original country home, fields of corn and wheat, and storybook woodlands. Meandering about the pastures are chickens, goats and draft horses. The scenic setting served as the wedding and honeymoon location of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1945.

The tradition continued on this starry night. By the start of the dance at 7 p.m., the parking lot is filled with cars, trucks and minivans. People saunter up the walkway to the barn carrying lawn chairs, as if they’re attending a family reunion. They prop them along the barn’s walls, claiming their spots for the evening.

The crowd’s a slice of Americana. There are chubby-cheeked toddlers towed by their parents, grandfathers and grandmothers hand in hand, and a fair amount of young adults looking for a good time. Sporting everything from worn jeans and cowboy boots to sparkly dresses and strappy heels, they eagerly flood the worn, wooden dance floor.

The Back Porch Swing Band, Malabar’s resident musicians, hits the unpainted, plywood stage. Fueled by Mountain Dew, the four-piece band quickly has the crowd tapping its toes. A fiddle, trumpet, guitar and standup bass provide the musical accompaniment to Norman’s rhythmic instructions to the dancers.

“Ready to have some fun?” she asks.

“We’re going to do-si-do our partner,” Norman says. “Does everybody know how to do that? Shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, all with no touching. Then we’ll do it all over again.

“We’ll start out slow, then speed it up.”

They do Eastern-style square dances here. Also called traditional square dancing, it typically starts with four couples arranged in a square that moves counter-clockwise as the caller directs their movements. Every dance is explained before it begins, unlike the more advanced and less casual Western-style square dance, which requires participants to know the steps before they begin.

“We get greenhorn dancers, and we teach them,” Norman says. “If they come out and try on their own and go away discouraged, they won’t come back. We start with the very beginning steps, so they walk away confident that they’ve learned something and they’ll want to do it again.”

So participants need not be experienced dancers to have a good time.

During a break, my family and I mosey outside, where the barn stands as a beacon amid the pitch-black night. People step out into the air to cool off and buy a candy bar or popcorn at a makeshift table, set up by a local chapter of the Future Farmers of America. Teenagers gather, no cell phones in site, to chat.

After a bit, the band goes back to work. Fiddle player Adam Jackson, a three-time state champion from Buckeye Lake, gets into a frenzy. The energetic quartet transitions from the quick-paced folk song “Frog Went A-Courtin’” to Elvis’ “Love Me Tender.”

“We play a lot of Western swing, jazz standards from the ’20s and ’30s, old country tunes, all blended together,” says Pete Shaw, who mans a Gibson guitar. “We just love to play music. And when we get everybody up and dancing, we just love that.”

Malabar Farm State Park is located at 4050 Bromfield Rd., Lucas, Ohio. For more information, call 419-892-2784 or visit www.malabarfarm.org.

[otw_shortcode_info_box border_type=”bordered” border_style=”bordered”]2015 barn dance schedule at Malabar Farm: April 26: Wildlife Barn Dance May 24: May Barn Dance July 5: Liberty Barn Dance Aug. 2: Summer Barn Dance Sept. 27: Heritage Barn Dance Oct. 25: Harvest Barn Dance All dances are held in the main barn from 7-10 p.m. Admission is $1 at the door.[/otw_shortcode_info_box]

(A longer version of this article by Wendy Pramik published in Country Living in 2011.)

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Kingwood Center

Thousands flock to majestic grounds each spring for colorful blooms


Every spring people want to know when they can witness the full splendor of 20,000 tulips at Kingwood Center, a former estate that’s now a 47-acre public park in Mansfield, Ohio.

Tulips have been Kingwood’s main attraction since the grounds opened to the public in 1953, one year after the death of property owner Charles Kelley King. The annual display draws thousands from around the state. Many visit on Mother’s Day. Some pack picnic lunches and plop down on the lawn with their families for a peaceful afternoon among the spring bloomers.

In truth, predicting when Kingwood’s tulips will come forth is an inexact science. Ohio’s fickle weather patterns make it a guessing game. Senior gardener Charles Applegate said the best chance to see them is typically the last week of April or the first week of May.

“If it stays sunny, dry and cool, the blooms will last longer,” says Applegate, who’s worked at Kingwood since 1965. He says the reason people get antsy to look at flowers this time of year is simple: “People have been through a cold winter and they want to see color. And the tulips are very bright. Unfortunately, they’re temporary.”

King would have enjoyed this scene. The recreational gardener, who made his fortune in Mansfield working with the Ohio Brass Company, requested that his property be used as an educational institution for the advancement of horticulture and gardening after his passing.

The Kelley King Trust operates Kingwood as a nonprofit business, and it is open to the public for a nominal fee nearly year-round. The property includes a 1926-built French Provincial mansion housing a horticultural library and many original furnishings. Greenhouses contain seasonal floral displays and a variety of unusual plants for sale. The center’s greatest delight, however, is its gardens, which produce an abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs that bloom from early spring to late fall. The headliner is the annual tulip display, which spreads over 55 beds.

“We always want it to be perfect,” says Bill Collins, Kingwood’s head gardener. “When the spring flowers are blooming and the tulips are out, it’s just spectacular here.”

Kingwood’ tulips hail from Holland. Bulbs are selected at their prime and shipped to a distributor in Cincinnati. Each October a staff of nine gardeners plants thousands of tulip bulbs. Using a hand-held trowel, each gardener digs a 5-inch-deep hole for every bulb, and the planting takes about a week.

Tulips do best in a sunny, dry and cool climate. In those weather conditions, the colorful display can last up to three weeks.

Kingwood annually holds a Spring Flower Festival in early May. The all-day event includes vendors, entertainment, workshops, lectures and plant sales.

For more information, visit www.kingwoodcenter.org.

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Richland Carrousel Park

Ride an old-fashioned roundabout in downtown Mansfield


To a child, the only thrill greater than seeing an old-fashioned carousel is climbing aboard one of its shiny, majestic creatures. One of the best places for children of all ages to do just that in Ohio is in Mansfield, 45 minutes north of Columbus.

The city pays homage to the amusement-park ride in its Carrousel District, located in downtown Mansfield. The district features several blocks of unique shops and restaurants in beautifully restored Victorian buildings. At the heart of the area is the Richland Carrousel Park, where guests can ride an old-fashioned roundabout for 75 cents.

The indoor carrousel at Richland Carrousel Park

Children delight in selecting the wooden animal they ride. Each is frozen in motion, wearing a colorful costume and welcoming saddle. Once the circus-style music starts, the ride begins to spin, providing a satisfying tickle in your tummy. The whirl of the bystanders and the sight of your parents or friends waving accentuate the delight of the ride.

This ridable roundabout has 52 animal figures, each carved and painted in a 1900s style by Carousel Works in Mansfield. Among the menagerie are 30 horses, several bears and ostriches, a zebra and a goat. The company also restored the rounding boards, mirrors and mural frames, which depict past and present attractions in Mansfield. The park is housed in a heated pavilion and contains the carousel and a gift shop featuring unique carousel items and musical figurines.

The Richland Carrousel Park is located at 75 N. Main St., Mansfield.

Hours are Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Labor Day through Dec. 31: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Sunday.)

Admission: $.75 per five-minute ride.

For more information, call 419-522-4223 or visit www.richlandcarrousel.com.