Farm Focus: Boysenberries
Fresh-picked boysenberries from Vince Gizdich’s ranch in Watsonville, CA are some of the best of the season!
By Robbie Sigona
If you were asked to name a few different berry varieties, boysenberry would probably make your list, but when is the last time you had a real boysenberry? No, not a boysenberry syrup or jam, but real fresh-picked boysenberry.
Boysenberries are a rare commodity. Not a lot of farmers grow them anymore because they’re fragile and were not bred for traveling long distances. However, Vince Gizdich, a local farmer in Watsonville, Calif. who we’ve worked with for about 35 years, grows them and with three generations of berry-growing expertise on his side, Vince grows some of the best boysenberries around. These berries, along with his heirloom apples, have made Gizdich Ranch the renowned produce source it is today.
On top of being naturally fragile, boysenberries are very perishable and difficult to pick at harvest time. The telltale sign of a perfectly ripe, succulent and sweet boysenberry is when it’s leaking – or bleeding – its juice. Understanding this is key to guaranteeing yourself the best boysenberry experience.
“Picking is a tough call because most consumers believe that bleeding berries are past their prime, but that’s when they’re best” said Vince. “Breaking that belief is hard, especially with people who purchase berries from grocery stores. Those berries are bred for traveling and a long shelf life; you can bounce those off the wall and they’ll still be good for a week, but they’re no where near as sweet. That’s why boysenberries are usually found at farmers markets or roadside stands like ours.”
The boysenberry is a very large bramble berry, meaning it grows on a rough-barked or thorny bush, and is said to be a cross between a loganberry, a raspberry and a blackberry. At maturity, boysenberries turn a glossy, reddish black color and have a tart-sweet flavor similar to the raspberry.
It was Rudolph Boysen who experimented with the new strain of berry in southern California in the early 1900s, but the plants kept dying. In the early 1930s Walter Knott, founder of the now famous Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., offered to take the struggling plants from Boysen to see if he could nurture the new berry. Knott was successful and named the new berry after its originator.
Last summer we introduce a new flavor of Massimo Gelato made with Vince’s boysenberries. We call it Sigona’s Bleeding Boysenberry Gelato and if you haven’t tried it yet, we hope you do this summer. As a result of our relationship with both Massimo Caporale, owner of Massimo Gelato, and with Vince, we were able to get the two together for a day of gelato making at Massimo’s shop in Watsonville. The result is deliciously sweet, cool and refreshing and is even better with a few fresh boysenberries sprinkled on top. You can read more about their partnership here.
“The boysenberry is a very sweet, great berry with a short season,” said Vince. “I hope more people give them a try to see for themselves how truly juicy and sweet they are.”
We hope so, too, as the berry will only stay around as long as people continue to buy them. We love having heirloom varieties of fruits & vegetables, and supporting the small farmers that continue to work these gems. The boysenberries is one of those that needs a little support — we’ll have them in the store for about two more weeks and then they’ll be gone until next summer so act fast!
In addition to what you can get in our store, you can go to Vince’s farm, Gizdich Ranch, and pick your own berries! Gizdich Ranch offers u-pick berries during the summer months. Learn more here.