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How a California berry built an entertainment powerhouse | Bartell's Backroads

One man's hobby led to the success of one of California's most popular theme parks and a NorCal farming legacy

ORLAND, Calif. — The iconic berry made famous by amusement park Knott’s Berry Farm is the boysenberry. It's a delicious fruit that’s not too sweet, not too tart, and ideal for pies, pastries or just popping in your mouth.

The boysenberry has a 100-year-old history and its roots are now deeply embedded at the Boysen Berry Farm in sunny Orland, home of Rudy’s Original.

Rudy’s Original is a u-pick farm. Many are surprised by the taste but if you ask owner Jeanette Boysen Fitzgerald, the real surprise is how her grandfather Rudolph Boysen developed the berry back in 1923.

“The parents are marionberry and loganberry. Marionberry is a blackberry with olallieberry in it, and loganberry is a blackberry with raspberry. So, you are getting like two or three, four berries in one,” said Fitzgerald.

Rudolph, or Rudy as he was known, had a hobby of cross-pollinating plants. He first developed the boysenberry vine at his home in Napa and eventually took them to Orange County, where he became the City Park Superintendent of Anaheim. It was there that he met another berry farmer by the name of Walter Knott.

“The way he liked to describe them, when he described them to Walter Knott in 1932, was 'they get as big as your thumb,'” said Fitzgerald.

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Walter Knott eventually planted fields of boysenberries and started selling jams, pies and pastries at his wife’s restaurant. It was an instant hit.

“That is... one of the things that helped the boysenberry and Knott’s Berry Farm become famous,” said Fitzgerald. 

Rudy Boysen passed away at an early age due to complications from a terrible fall. Jeanette never met her grandfather but as she was looking into the family history, she learned that her great-uncle still had some of the original boysenberry vines growing at his house. 

“That’s where all these come from," Fitzgerald said, gesturing to a surrounding field. "They are descendants from my grandfather's original vines that were kept in my family."

Jeanette and her husband Tom now grow 2,400 heritage boysenberry vines, which attract around 5,000 people during harvest in May and June. Some of the most enthusiastic pickers are kids. 

“You can see it on the kids' faces,” said Fitzgerald.

Berries in the bucket are sold by the pound, but berries that make it in your mouth are free. And while you are working your way down the rows, keep an eye out for painted rocks. 

“We hide (them) for kids to find in between the vines,” said Fitzgerald.

Introducing people to the boysenberry is not just a job for Jeanette, it’s a way to honor her grandfather Rudy Boysen, the creator of the boysenberry. 

“My grandfather left a legacy that I can carry on,” said Fitzgerald.

The 2023 season has ended, but you can sign up for the farm's newsletter for updates on when the next season begins.

ANOTHER FANTASTIC FARM ON THE BACKROADS:  Follow spicy peppers from a Woodland field to a SoCal factory where they're turned into Huy Fong Foods' famous 'Rooster Sauce.'

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