“Life is uncertain — eat dessert first.”
— Ernestine Ulmer.
Does this quote resonate with anyone? Life has not been normal since COVID-19 reared its ugly head, causing massive quarantines and economic instability. Ernestine Ulmer’s advice is timely, and summertime is the best time to enjoy a universally loved dessert — ice cream. I easily persuaded family members to “go glimmering,” our family’s nickname for a spontaneous adventure, and taste test the unique flavors of homemade ice cream in the Cape Fear region.
There are a plethora of commercial businesses where you can buy ice cream in our region — too many to list in here, so our emphasis was on homemade and hometown entrepreneurs who offer not only delicious ice cream but also a fun destination worth exploring. For this article, I chose three locations, each under an hour’s drive from downtown Fayetteville. Still, I felt guilty leaving out Sweet Frog, Baskin-Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery and the employer of teenage me — Dairy Queen. It was at DQ that I learned how to artistically twist the soft ice cream into a little curlicue on top of the cone and quickly dip it into the chocolate without dumping the whole confectionary treat.
On the road, our first adventure was to Gillis Hill Farm, which is always a fun family excursion. We visited on a “strawberry Saturday” where, in addition to getting delicious ice cream, we could also pick strawberries and purchase fresh produce, jams, jellies and honey. Before we even sampled the ice cream, we bought two baskets of berries and a round watermelon we tucked into our trunk. Children love visiting Gillis Hill Farm as there are animals and play areas sprinkled throughout the grounds. Farmers in this area since the 1700s, the most recent generation of the Gillis family has expanded into agritourism.
The ice cream shop was open during the quarantine but operated responsibly by requiring social distancing and allowing only one person at a time to order at the window. Instead of the usual perch on the porch rocking chairs, Gillis Hill Farm encouraged us, and all visitors, to enjoy treats in our cars. The homemade flavors vary — check their Facebook page to see what to expect during your visit. They offer cups, homemade waffle cones and pints you can take home. I sampled the strawberry, having just left the patch, and it was creamy and flavorful. My daughter tried the banana and found it oh so “a-peel-ing.”
Sunni Sky’s was our next day’s adventure, and it did not disappoint. Described as “ice cream heaven,” there are almost always over 120 flavors to choose from and a larger-than-life hot-pink ice cream cone statue to take a selfie by. In the past, they even had “hot” flavors — one famously named “cold sweat” that would cause partakers to break into one. Cheers to the employees, aka “inspectors” — per the stenciled titles on every worker’s shirt, who managed a two-car line up to keep fans fed and moving efficiently. My choice was a butterscotch bliss, my daughter had blue nerd, and my husband tried a double scoop of coffee. Bits of butterscotch provided extra sweetness, and the coffee choice smelled as good as it tasted. The blue nerd was colorful but excessively filled with nerds and a little too sugary.
We decided to “double-dip” our Sunday adventure and head to the nearby town of Coats to try the ice cream at Smith Farm. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the quarantine. We were excited to try their fresh fruit flavors and creamy ice cream but will have to plan another date to experience their offerings firsthand (and mouth). Their Facebook page promises wood churned ice cream, delicious shakes and root beer floats.
During the “shelter-at-home” days, some families invested in ice cream makers to make recipes from scratch. From low-cost hand-cranked models to speedier high-tech machines, anyone can create homemade cold and creamy treats. The magical transformation of the simple ingredients of fresh fruit, cream and sugar into ice cream enthralls both the young and the young at heart.
Make time to celebrate summer by making a batch of homemade ice cream or setting out on an excursion to one of these locally owned venues. The unique flavors, fresh ingredients and pride in craftsmanship will be your reward.
More homemade ice cream shops in and around Fayetteville
Gillis Hill Farm
2701 Gillis Hill Road
Fayetteville, N.C. 28306
Sunny Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream Inc.
Angier, N.C. 27501
NC-55, Coats, N.C. 27521
Smallcakes: Cupcakery & Creamery
2132 Skibo Rd #114
Fayetteville, N.C. 28314
The Sweet Palette
101 Person St.
Fayetteville, N.C. 28301
The Coffee Scene
3818 Morganton Rd.