We went orange picking! Ryan drove down from St. Augustine and I drove up from Tampa and we met somewhere in the middle-ish in DeLand, FL. I had never visited before, and I don't think Ryan had either. The Pastor at Ryan's church is part of the family that owns a citrus you pick farm, Gordon's Grove. They have a wide variety of oranges and grape fruits, so many I have absolutely no memory of what we picked, other than the fact that they were all delicious. We arrived relatively early and worked our way around the dozens of rows that were separated by each variety. We each had these long picker poles that were made of giant wooden dowels with hooks on the ends. Some of the best fruit was towards the tops of the trees, making it difficult to reach without one. Most times, I had to stand on my tippy toes to even reach 3/4th of the way up the tree.
^^ the family's cute pup, Bella. She looked a bit frightening at first, but she was as sweet as they come.
We left with two Home Depot buckets filled with oranges, satsumas, and a variety of grapefruits. The cost per bucket was only $10! We both had oranges and grapefruits for at least another week and a half. The satsumas were my absolute favorite. They are just like the cuties you purchase at the store, easy to peel and incredibly sweet. Fruit picking has easily become one of my favorite activities. I've crossed blueberry and orange picking off of my list. Next up, I would like to go strawberry and apple picking.
After orange picking, we hopped in our cars and headed to a secret lunch location that Ryan had picked out. We arrived at the DeLeon Springs State Park, headed down a few pathways to park, and found ourselves at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Pancake House. Each table is equipped with one to two griddles for you to make your own pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon. Their pancakes are all you can eat and are brought to your table by the pitcher. You could chose between an unbleached flour or a stone ground whole wheat blend. You can also order an unlimited amount of toppings for your pancakes. We ordered one of each of the batters and picked blueberries, chocolate chips and peanut butter for our pancakes. The stone ground mix was a table favorite, as we each ate about 5-6 pancakes. They were absolutely delicious and it was the perfect meal to eat after a cold and rainy afternoon outdoors.
I would love to go back during the spring or summer when the temperatures warm up. Our waitress told us that large groups will come and swim in the springs or walk the trails as they wait for a table for breakfast or lunch. She said sometimes they work on a four to a five hour wait time. She said families love it because they arrive early and can put their names on a waiting list, go play in the park or springs, and then when their table is ready, the restaurant will call over a speaker system that can be heard outdoors. She did also mention that if you are out walking the off beaten trails to be careful for black bears; apparently the park has several dozen roaming the area. I'm sure they are out and about just looking to make some pancakes as well ;)
A few fun things about the park, they rent tubes, kayaks and canoes to explore the springs. You can paddle the kayaks and canoes down to the Wildlife Refuge where there are over 200 species of birds, dozens of alligators, and even the occasional manatee. The spring itself stays 72 degrees all year round, making it an ideal swimming hole during the winter months. They do charge for rentals, as well as parking when you enter the park, but it's absolutely worth it to go and explore for the day. And if you go during orange picking season, do not miss out on the chance to stop by and pick a few of your own at Gordon's Grove.