Things I’ve Learned About Boysenberries 16


In January 2010, I planted, on the advice of my nursery-man, four little sticks. In the intervening year and a half, I’ve learned a reasonable amount about said little sticks, and I’m going to share it now. (: I am pretty sure that ‘long around September I’m going to have an addendum to this post as I try to figure out what needs whacking back. But before I launch into the lecture, let me muse for a few minutes.

I’m a native Californian. I grew up less than two hours from Knott’s Berry Farm. If you’ve ever been to Knott’s, you’ve heard the story about how Walter Knott found the last few vines in an abandoned field once owned by Rudolph Boysen, and how he turned those nearly-dead hybrid raspberry-loganberry-blackberry vines into history, fame, and delicious jam. Maybe you’ve had the chicken, biscuits, and boysenberry pie at Knott’s Berry Farm. For me, that’s a childhood memory that made a lifelong imprint. But it wasn’t until I was older — and when I started growing my own food — that I began to wonder why it was that in California, the birthplace of the boysenberry, our very own special native fruit — I couldn’t find them in the grocery store, except as jam.

So I decided I’d grow them myself. And I did.

First thing I’ve learned: boysenberries love my lousy Mira Mesa clay soil, full of rocks, minerals, and under-the-surface retained water. Those four little sticks have grown into this:

North Side Boysenberries

South Side Boysenberries

Second thing I’ve learned: you really, really really don’t need four boysenberry plants for a family of two. {: Unless you love them even more than I do. I have so far in the past week made boysenberry cobbler, boysenberry pie, and have boysenberry jam cooling in jars right now.

I picked berries on Friday. I picked them again this morning. This is what I picked this morning:

Berry Harvest This Morning

That there is four and a half pounds of boysenberries. And you can see in this picture that the plants are nowhere near done.

Boysenberries growing

They do pretty much grow, flower, and fruit all at once, it seems — one gigantic harvest a year. I’ll try to make sure that I post when they are done, so that I have a record of how long they produce.

Third thing I’ve learned: bees adore boysenberries. Plant them and the bees will be all over your pretty white flowers, buzzing away happily. They like the boysenberries better than my lavender!

Fourth thing I’ve learned: unless you’re way better at trellising than me (certainly likely!), pick from the bottom up. That way you don’t step on ripe berries when you’re going for the ones in the middle and at the top.

Fifth thing I’ve learned: Just because the plant is “thornless” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have thorns at all (these have little tiny ones that are just a nuisance, rather than painful), and just because it’s thornless to begin with doesn’t mean the new canes will be thornless too. Obviously these are adapting very, very well to my yard!

Sixth thing: I know why you never see boysenberries in the grocery store. I know you might find them in the farmer’s market, but it’s 99.99% that you won’t find them in the grocery store, because a boysenberry goes from underripe to overripe in, oh, about three days. They may have cores like blackberries, but they’re soft as the raspberries they were cross-bred with. Pick a bowl of fresh ones like those in the picture above, and the almost-overripe ones will squish from the weight of the other berries. Freshly-picked perfectly ripe or just-barely-underripe boysenberries last about two days in the fridge. That’s it. You want ‘em raw, better grow ‘em yourself, or find someone who’s growing them and maybe they’ll share. (;

Seventh thing: boysenberries are terrific raw — slightly underripe, they’re much like raspberries. Closer to overripe, they’re more like blackberries. Either way, they have a honey-sweet tang all their own. But great as they are raw, they’re even better cooked. Cooking naturally mellows and melds the flavors in the berries into one cohesive taste of pure awesome — as if every point of flavor you could taste separately raw are all together at once when they’re cooked.

You can use boysenberries pretty much anywhere you’d use their cousins, but sometimes the simplest way is the best.

Pure Knott’s Nostalgia Boysenberry Jam

Makes about 11 half-pints, or 5-6 pints.

  • 4 1/2 lb. boysenberries, freshly picked, well rinsed, and cleaned of any remaining caps and leaves (have a mix of mostly ripe and some slightly under-ripe so they’ll set better)
  • 6 1/2 c. sugar (I like evaporated cane sugar, which still has a little cane flavor)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Set up your boiling water-bath canner, jars, and lids.

Place all of the berries in a large pot and crush them gently. You can use a potato masher if you have one. I don’t, so I use a pastry cutter. You can also use the back of a big metal spoon. Just remember that boysenberry juice, like its cousins, stains like crazy. Wear an apron when you do this.

Add the sugar and the lemon juice and stir well. Bring the berries to a boil, making sure all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat so that it boils gently, and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it sheets off a metal spoon.

I like mine softly-gelled. So I check the big metal spoon I stir with, after I take a break from stirring for a while, before I put it back in the pot. If the jam has gelled on the spoon between now and the last time I stirred, that means it’s pretty much done. It took me about half an hour to get to a good gel.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, wipe the rims, screw the lids on finger-tip tight, return the jars to the canner, bring to a rolling boil, and process in the boiling-water canner for 10 minutes for either pints or half-pints.

Twelve half-pints full of jam

Sweet and tangy boysenberry jam


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16 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learned About Boysenberries

  • Jai

    Thank you for the help on the boysenberries. I have a speech to prepare for my class at Le Cordon Bleu and it helped answer alot of questions in regards to the flavor. Thank you

  • Debra

    Thanks for all the information. I really enjoyed it. I’m planting a thornless boysenberry plant this weekend (I live in Riverside County, CA) and hope to get enough berries from one plant to make enough jam for friends and friends. I’m planting it beside my recently planted thornless blackberry. I hope that my berry crop and my jam looks as wonderful as yours!!

  • Leanne Post author

    Awww, thank you! Good luck with your plants! I think one would be enough once it’s a couple of years old. (:

  • scott

    thanks fot the page, it is rather hard to find out online what “thornless” really means with the boysen berries

  • Carrie Rael

    After searching everywhere I finally bought canned boysenberrys online. I am going to try to grow some because we love them! What nursery did you get your sticks from?

  • Lisa

    So, I guess I have just learned that the NINE little sticks I got free today will be too many for a family of 3? Actually the lady who gave them to me wasn’t sure if they were boysenberries or tayberries, since she forgot which were growing where when these starts came up. Do you know if tayberries are tended the same way? I am putting them in large pots on a deck against a house with a trellis.
    Thank you for your post and photos. I love blogs and sites with lots of photos!

  • Laurie Newman

    WOW! I can’t believe how much you answered for me in one website. Use to make boysenberry pie
    when I was in high school, it was my favorite. Been looking for the cans in stores for years. I finally decided
    I was going to look on line for them. Bingo, I wonder if those plants would grow in Dallas,Texas soil?
    Thanks so much for taking the time to put this information out, it was so helpful.

  • Leanne Post author

    I’m pretty sure they’d grow fine in Dallas, as long as they’re protected from too much frost. And they may still be fine anyway, we just don’t get much frost here. Be warned that they do grow like weeds and keep them appropriately contained if you don’t want them taking over your yard.

  • richard dow

    As a kid growing up I’d help Mom make boysenberry jam. Usually because I was the one who wanted it. We used a ricer to crush the berries. This proved to be a more productive method. Just a thought

  • Kathleen

    Thank you for the informative article I fell in love with boysenberries many years ago at an ice cream shop called Baskin Robbins They had a flavor called Boysenberry Cheesecake.
    I have a question if you know I have a smaller yard and have planted blackberry bushes. Since the boysenberry is a cross between blackberry , raspberry , and some other berry do you know if I plant the boysenberry near the blackberry it will cross pollinate and make all my blackberries boysenberries? Also I live in Texas and it can get very hot here I wonder if I should plant them in partial shade
    thank you

  • Leanne Post author

    Hm. I honestly don’t know about the cross-pollination. You’d probably have better luck inquiring of your Master Gardeners in the area, they might be able to tell you. I would be inclined to think not, as they’re self-fruitful, but I don’t know for sure.

    I live in southern California, and it gets pretty warm here too. I don’t think you have to put them in partial shade, but I don’t think it would hurt them either. They may just bloom and set fruit a little later. The ones that were in the shadier part of my yard were a bit slower than the ones in the sunny side.

  • Wendy

    We discovered boysenberries last summer and instantly fell in love! Particularly with boysenberry cobbler ;) Thank you for the insight into this unique, somewhat elusive berry!

  • Leanne Post author

    You are most welcome! Enjoy them! I am currently growing mine in a large hydroponics tub, and they are doing quite well. I didn’t want them to escape into the yard at my new home. ^_^