How close the Boysenberry came to being lost–and a little Knotts-stalgia

I am always interested in fruit-variety stories. Many famous varieties of fruit were discovered quite by chance, or were deemed lost and then recovered. It seems the boysenberry has an interesting origin story. While I knew it was Knott’s Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California, near where I grew up, that had popularized this variety of berry, until reading a history of Knott’s, I did not know this part of the story:

Amid the Great Depression, Walter [Knott] was making a name for himself with his berries, and in 1932 a man named George M. Darrow heard about a superior berry that was said to be created by a “Mr. Boysen.” Darrow figured Walter would know this Mr. Boysen due to their mutual interest in berries, however Walter admitted he did not, but suggested they look up Boysen in the phonebook. This led them to Rudolph Boysen in Anaheim. Boysen admitted to experimenting with berries, but left them behind on his previous property. Together the three men found Boysen’s long-forgotten berry plant in a ditch covered in weeds and without berries. Boysen said the plant was a cross between a red raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry. After securing permission from the new owners, Walter took cuttings back to Buena Park to plant and cultivate. One year later Walter had a welcome surprise — massive berries! In 1934, Walter had enough cuttings and berries to introduce the new boysenberry as a commercial product…

While I am on the nostalgia trip about Knott’s and the theme park that grew up around the original berry farm and its fried chicken restaurant, I want to quote this passage from the history, as well:

The Knott family struggled through the Great Depression, but in 1934 Cordelia [Knott, wife of Walter] had an idea that would change everything. On a June evening, Cordelia made eight fried chicken dinners for her Tea Room guests. Served alongside salad with rhubarb, biscuits, vegetables, mashed potatoes with gravy, and berry pie on the family’s wedding china, the dinner cost 65 cents. Walter recalled the moment was “the turning point in our economic life.” It was really the turning point that would transform a farm into a theme park.

Word spread of this delicious fried chicken and soon people were flocking to the little farm and Tea Room in Buena Park. The small dining room originally sat 20, and in 1935 they expanded it to 40, only to have to expand it again the following year to accommodate 70. Cordelia’s little Tea Room had become a full-fledged restaurant and when they expanded to seat 350 they figured people would no longer have to wait, but they did!

Indeed, I was there many times with my mother, and we almost always had to wait. This would have been in the 1970s. In addition to that memory, I also can recall back to before there was a fence and required admission fee, before 1968. My mom and aunt would go out do whatever the sisters liked to do, and leave me with Uncle Bob. He often took me to Knott’s and we would just walk around–maybe taking in a few rides or other attractions (for which individual tickets were sold) and certainly riding the train–and mostly just sitting on a bench and watching the goings on. Uncle Bob was always one to strike up conversations with strangers about… whatever.

Fun times. I do not think I have been to Knott’s since the 1980s. But I understand the berry pies and chicken dinners are still going strong.

2 thoughts on “How close the Boysenberry came to being lost–and a little Knotts-stalgia

  1. This is great Knottstalgia! I grew up in San Bernardino but really enjoyed going to Knotts, even compared to the larger competition down the road. My wife Christina grew up off Beach Blvd quite close to Knotts, and I’ll still put my money as theirs being among the best Sunday brunches in Orange County. Another fun Knotts fact is that Steve Martin started his entertainment career at the Birdcage Theatre in Ghost Town…

    • Ah, that is interesting on Steve Martin. Further fun fact: He went to my high school (albeit years before I was going there).

      As for that larger competitor down the road, I lived a little closer to it, and went often. But my better childhood memories are definitely of Knott’s, probably largely because of the memories with my uncle. And also I liked their trains better–including the Calico Gold Mine ride. (Also the chicken!)

      Beach Blvd. was a a few long blocks west of me. My mom always just called it “Highway 39”, which it was, but most residents did not seem to call it that.

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