i A Time and a Place...: The Worst of ‘em…Boysenberries...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Worst of ‘em…Boysenberries...

I was reading an old, now unused blog of mine and came across this article. I think it is interesting enough to post on this blog. It's a bit lengthy but gets interesting near the end. I hope you enjoy it.

The Worst of ‘em…

I guess the worst of the fruit to pick was Boysenberries. I won’t go much into how they’re grown, only how they’re picked, at least my experience of picking them.(which was only once)Boysenberries…

First, let me explain a little about Boysenberries and what they are. They are a cross between red raspberries, logan berries and blackberries. They were developed by a man named Rudolph Boysen (who abandoned the fruit after developing it) and first commercially cultivated and marketed by a man named Walter Knott of Buena Park, California.

Mr. Boysen developed the berry in Napa Valley but, as I said, abandoned the fruit and the vine. Mr. Knott, a southern California berry farmer and George Darrow, a USDA employee, heard of the juicy berry and tracked down the abandoned berry vine and Mr. Knott took it to Buena Park where he grew the large, juicy berries and his wife made preserves from the berries and sold them to the public. They were so well received that they (and the farm where they were grown, Knotts Berry Farm) became world famous.

Anyhow, us kids were always looking for a way to make a buck since, in Little Okie, Modesto, there weren’t many bucks to be had by kids. There was a man who had acres and acres of Boysen Berries and needed for them to be picked. It was hard for him to find people to pick his berries because he couldn’t pay much and no one wanted to get their hands all scratched up by the berry vine thorns. What he did was pass around leaflets through our and other neighborhoods saying he wanted to hire kids to pick his berries for so much money a small basket. The baskets were the size of the now popular strawberry baskets.

On the leaflet, he told where he would be on a certain day (the corner of Oregon Drive and Empire Avenue) and anyone who wanted to pick berries should be there to be picked up and taken to the berry patch. He would pay for the number of baskets picked by each person at the end of the day (which was about six hours). I don’t remember how much a basket paid but it wasn’t enough for me to go a second day. We were instructed to bring gloves and many of us did. We started at the end of a vine and picked the berries, one at a time, carefully so’s not to mash them, and put them into the little basket.

The problem was, no matter how thick your gloves were, (most of us had cotton gloves) they wouldn’t stop the thorns from piercing right to the skin and nailing your arms! I stayed the first day and picked all I could, mostly because it was too far to walk home. Some of the kids tried to put leaves in their baskets so they would appear full but the guy checking them quickly put a stop to that.

As I recall, I earned about a dollar and a half that day, not nearly enough for me to want to go back for another day! Actually, no amount of money would have been enough, considering the thorn holes on my hands and the scratches on my arms!

I told this story to a friend many years later and his response was, “Gee, I didn’t think Boysenberries had thorns!”

Well, ‘duh’! Then what was that I had picked? Well,.. what was it? I guess some do and some don’t. If finding out for sure takes another round of picking them, I’ll never know! (or care)

I guess the thing about picking berries, even Blackberries, is to not get in too much of a hurry. I remember several times when my Mother’s brothers and sisters came from Texas to Modesto to visit us. They would set up their tents on the end of our lot, a couple had small trailers that were big enough to sleep in, and we cooked and ate on a couple of big tables under the apricot trees.

This is a picture of Grandpa (walking away) and Grandma (facing us) and Aunt Cannie Rayburn (Grandma’s sister) with her back to us, Aunt Sylvia standing facing us in the background and some others sitting around a table, getting ready to eat. (or just visiting) This was about 1946 or so.

Mom and most of the women would go to Dry Creek and wade out into the creek with buckets and pick the ripe, juicy blackberries that grow along the banks of the creek to take home and eat and no one much complained about the scratches they got picking the berries! (Here is a picture of Dry Creek I borrowed from Flicker-I couldn't find one showing the Blackberry vines)

They usually picked enough so that Mother could can up a bunch of the berries while the folks were there visiting us. Then the relatives would each have at least one jar of Blackberry jam to take home when they left.

Those days were wonderful. Everyone would sit around the table or on peach boxes and talk about their times at home or about things that had happened to them since the last time they saw each other; or just visit and enjoy each other’s company.
Once in a while, Pop and Uncle Mack and a couple more of the men would sneak off down to Legion Park and take a snort of Three Feathers or Four Roses or some other kind of whiskey (there was no drinking allowed at home) and have their ‘man talk’ then come back and try not to let the women know they had been drinking. Of course everyone knew but as long as there was no trouble, no one acknowledged it. No one ever got drunk but it sure loosened them up!

Us boys would usually ‘put on the gloves’ and see who was the best fighter. The men made a big thing of it but always made sure the boxing gloves were 16 ounce gloves so no one would get hurt much during the boxing match. The winner was usually the kid who lasted the longest without getting tired. It was great fun!

Sometimes the women and the girls would get the quilting frame out and take scraps of cloth Mom had or the other women brought with them from Texas and have a quilting bee and swap gossip. They loved to talk about their men and things that had happened since the last visit. It was a wonderful way of life and everyone always seemed very happy. Who knows, this visit could be the last time some of us ever saw the rest, at least in this life.
It seems that kind of visiting doesn’t happen much anymore. Mother is gone to her reward and so are all of her brothers and sisters. I guess those days are gone forever.

And besides, most people are too busy nowadays to do much visiting. And who would sleep in a tent anymore and wade into the creek to pick a bunch of thorny blackberries! Too bad…sad.



Blogger tweetey30 said...

Interesting. Thanks for sharing the story. And the photo's of your family.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:28 PM  

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