KCRW-FM 89.9's Good Food with Evan Kleiman program is branching out into the world of pies. For the next couple of months, the show's blog will have a blog post daily on pies. Yours truly, as a Good Food contributor, wrote a rant for them on boysenberry pie, which I've included (with some notes for us naranjeros) after the jump! I'll have a couple more contributions for them in the coming months, all with an Orange County angle, of course.And for more boysenberry goodness, read the Los Angeles Times' piece from May–sans the politics and REAL history, of course.
Like any good native son of Orange County, I enjoy my regular slices
of boysenberry pie: its bold sweetness, the burgundy-purple tint the
filling leaves on lips and fingers after a couple of forkfuls, the
stray seeds that add unexpected body, and that delightful, lingering
tartness of which I've finally been able to finger its origins:
Can pies hate? This one does. Orange County historians love to retell
the history of the boysenberry, named after its creator, Rudy Boysen.
The story goes that Boysen created a monster berry from the pollen of
raspberries, dewberries, Himalayan blackberries, and loganberries while a
farmer in Napa during the 1920s. He brought some of the seedlings with
him when he moved to Anaheim to be closer to his wife's family, but
gave up on trying to sell them to the public. Years later, in 1932, a
farmer by the name of Walter Knott came to Boysen's house looking for
his creation after hearing rumors of a “Sensation Berry of the 20th
Century.” A surprised Boysen told Knott to visit the former house of his
in-laws, but warned he hadn't bothered with growing them for years.
Knott found some samples at the in-laws' farm, and took them back to his
own homestead, located just off Beach Boulevard in Buena Park. With
the baking help of his wife, Cordelia, and that sensation berry, Walter
opened a roadside stand offering berries, jam and fried chicken
dinners. The lines became so long that Knott eventually transported an
entire ghost town to his property to entertain guests–the first
amusement park in the country, and the first part of what's now Knott's
Knott became a multimillionaire off Boysen's berry, while Rudy never
received a penny, but Rudy didn't mind. He spent the rest of his years
as the head of Anaheim's parks, creating a citywide system that remains
a model for Southern California. Boysen remains a beloved figure in
Anaheim civic life: a park is named after him where I spent many a
summer day sliding down the Googie-esque rocket ship slide, and Pearson
Park – a gorgeous slice of Art Deco theaters, baseball diamonds,
fields, and tennis courts – features a cactus garden with dozens of
succulents Boysen amassed over the decades.
Nice tale, right? But Orange County historians, long accustomed to
viewing the past through the prism of the orange-crate labels of yore,
usually don't bother with the rest of the story. Walter Knott used his
millions to espouse and support various wacky right-wing causes and was a
founder of the Lincoln Club, the PAC most responsible for cursing the
United States with Orange County's unique brand of conservativism [Gustavo note: Knott's most famous efforts involved the Orange County School of Anti-Communism, along with Robert Schuller) .
Boysen's idea of beautiful parks was reserved for white people only –
Mexicans could only swim in Pearson's Park pool the day before the
dirty water was dumped, and even segregated them.
"They were putting us in a corner of [Pearson] Park, in a
wire-enclosed corral,” remembered a Mexican-American activist, in a
1989 interview with a UC Irvine professor. “Like animals, like beasts .
. . like cows to the corral.” When the activist and others organized a
protest against the segregation, Boysen had them arrested on the spot.
Mmmm…that's some good Juan Crow there! [G[Gustavo note: this anecdote pulled from my cover story on OC balladeer Emilio Martinez]>
I guess I should boycott boysenberry pie, but I can't – its flavor is
too good. Besides, I relish the idea of Knott and Boysen looking
aghast as a Mexican eats their prize fruit with a glass of horchata and
telling the world of their dirty politics for decades to come.