One of the joys (or, if you prefer, the coping mechanisms) of living in a region with four distinct seasons is anticipating every change in the weather and its association with specific foods. In Connecticut, even as spring drags on into a muddy extension of winter, we know there will finally come a week with a few warm days. On those days, the afternoon temperatures can even get high enough to hint at the approach of summer. And around here, that signifies one thing: ice cream.
To be clear, I don’t mean ice cream from a downtown storefront, or from the grocery store freezer aisle. I mean a long drive to a small farm with a primitive parking area, a few picnic tables scattered around, and some cows lazing about in the distance. I mean the kind of place where you order your ice cream through a little window, where you have to eat fast before the sun melts it all onto your hands, and where even if you plan to have just a taste, it’s so good you end up eating the whole thing. Because hey, you lived through winter, and summer’s almost here, and that’s something to celebrate.
This post, an update of an ancient one from the TSOC archives, is a roundup of some of the best places in the state to find this kind of ice cream experience. To make this list, I stuck to a few criteria. First, the setup had to be fully outdoors: no going into a store to eat or even order. Second, the setting had to be agrarian, rustic, and entirely unpretentious. Third, the ice cream had to be homemade, not mass-produced elsewhere and trucked in. And finally, it had to be delicious. Of course.
These seven rural ice cream stands, located across Connecticut, are all of that – and more.
Salem Valley Farms, Salem
They started making ice cream in 1988, but if I stood you in front of the simple little red stand at Salem Valley Farms and said it had been here since the 1950s, you’d believe it. You can choose between dozens of flavors from traditional (e.g., chocolate) to trendy (e.g., birthday cake) to, shall we say, more sophisticated (e.g., basil.) Salem Valley Farms is such a local favorite that their ice cream is also sold at various stores around eastern Connecticut.
Address: 20 Darling Road, Salem CT, 06420 | Website
Rich Farm, Oxford
My first visit to Rich Farm many years ago might also have been the first time it dawned on me that rural ice cream stands are kind of a big deal around here. The parking lot was packed, the line was long, and whatever I got (probably black raspberry chocolate chip) was amazing. Since then, this local favorite has gone beyond local, opening stores in Bristol and Brookfield as well as a location in California (!) They carry a variety of flavors, with about two dozen stand-bys and rotating specials. There are picnic tables. There are silos. There are cows. There will probably be a line. It’s worth standing on.
Address: 691 Oxford Road, Oxford CT, 06478 | Website
If you think Pomfret is all posh neighborhoods and private schools, a trip to We-Lik-It will quickly correct that perception; the surroundings at this no-frills stand are more hay bales and horses. This 6th generation family farm has been making ice cream for over 25 years, and in addition to the usual options, their flavors include intriguing seasonal selections like Indian Pudding and Margarita Madness, plus lots of combos with cookies, candies, and swirls. I’m still trying to figure out whether we like it or we lick it, but both are accurate, so it’s good either way.
Address: 728 Hampton Road (Route 97), Pomfret Center CT, 06259 | Website
The Collins Creamery, Enfield
The Collins Creamery is located in what its owners describe as “the quiet side of town,” and while all of Enfield seems pretty quiet to me, I do agree that there’s something extra relaxing about eating high-quality ice cream while surrounded by peaceful fields and red barns. (In fact, the last time I went there, my brakes nearly failed and I spent the rest of the day waiting for a very expensive repair in the middle of absolute nowhere, and I still consider that a pretty good day.) With almost thirty flavors, there’s something for the risk averse (like vanilla) as well as the more adventurous (like the, um, alarmingly named Collins Compost.)
Address: 9 Powder Hill Road, Enfield CT, 06082 | Website
Buttonwood Farm, Griswold
These days, Buttonwood Farm is known as the place with the sunflowers. The flowers (sales of which go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut) draw ever-growing mid-summer crowds who park along the roadside to Instagram the heck out of the photogenic fields. But aside from the sunflowers, and the corn maze, and the other fun attractions, there is premium ice cream to be had in this especially idyllic swath of Griswold. (And if you go when the sunflowers aren’t blooming and the lines aren’t long, you’ll get that ice cream right away.) They offer about forty regular flavors, many of which have a little something extra (e.g., their strawberry contains strawberry halves), plus a few limited edition flavors at a time.
Address: 473 Shetucket Turnpike, Griswold CT, 06351 | Website
Tulmeadow Farm, Simsbury
If you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t guess that there’s ice cream for sale at this unassuming farm stand in West Simsbury. Driving past, you’d simply admire the cluster of red farm buildings set among rolling hills. But if you stopped and followed the excited children lining up in front of the little store, you’d find a creamery offering a changing selection of flavors, both familiar (like peppermint stick and chocolate chocolate chip) and slightly more unusual (like Lemon Biscoff and Mexican Chocolate.) And here’s a random fun fact: the family who owns Tulmeadow Farm started producing ice cream in 1994, but they’ve been farmers in this area since 1768!
Address: 255 Farms Village Road, West Simsbury CT, 06092 | Website
Ferris Acres Creamery, Newtown
From the stone walls to the red barns to the grazing cows, Ferris Acres is quintessentially New England. This family farm, dating back to 1864, began shifting their efforts towards ice cream-making in 2003. Today, in addition to their stand in a particularly scenic part of Newtown, their products are sold in various local stores and restaurants. Ferris Acres has seasonal flavors, in addition to special flavors which rotate daily; their regular flavors include tempting combinations like Route 302 Chocolate Moo (“chocolate ice cream with fudge swirls and lots of dark chocolate chunks”) and Campfire (“Vanilla ice cream with fudge swirls, graham cracker pieces, and mini marshmallows.”)
Address: 144 Sugar Street, Newtown CT, 06470 | Website
Because flavors change seasonally – and in some cases daily – check the website and social media of your chosen ice cream stand before visiting. Also check for updated hours and opening and closing dates.
Some locations are cash only, so be prepared.
I’ve used “ice cream” throughout this post, for simplicity’s sake. But almost all of the above destinations serve at least a handful of non ice cream frozen desserts like yogurts and sorbets. Often, though not always, there are some dairy-free, sugar-free, low fat, and/or vegan options on the menu.
I grew up about 1 mile from Buttonwood, it opened when I was a kid. I’ve known the family for a long time. To this day, it’s still the best ice cream I’ve ever had. I’ll definitely be sure to try the others though!