A Southern California summer lingers inside me. Fresh ocean breezes, cool and salty -  a welcome change from the Santa Ana winds that had blasted their pollen through the spring. A nearly cloudless sky, graced by a high-up sun that would scorch the skin in an hour without heavy sunscreen. The taste of fresh, sweet berry jams on soft white bread. And most treasured: a trip to Knott's Berry Farm.

Smucker's wants to take that from me.

Knott's Berry Jam strawberry preserves laying on a table with a bowl of strawberries and a sliced baguette topped with jam.
J.M. Smucker Company / Canva

The sudden disappearance of the beloved Knott's Berry Farm jam

This week, a piece of news crossed my desktop that was as much shock as a summer squall's bitterly cold rain on the California coast: The J.M. Smucker Company was immediately ending the sale of Knott's Berry Farm branded food products. A statement to KTLA from the company indicated that it was a decision in "alignment" with their goals to commit to the greatest growth potential within their product portfolio.

My first reaction was a loud "Say WHAT?". It was followed by "how dare you" under my breath.

To be honest, I have no experience in the sales or marketing of jams, jellies, or really any food products. I have no right to tell Smucker's that it's wrong, that Knott's Berry Farm jams and jellies are as alive and important as the theme park itself that still stands. My nostalgia doesn't mean anything when it comes to business evaluations or shareholders' desires. But there's a bigger story here that needs to be told.

Walter and Cordelia Knott in front of their Berry Stand
Knott's Berry Farm / Canva

Knott's holds over a century of Southern California history

The Knott family settled on the Buena Park property in 1920, devoting 20 acres to building a berry farm. A few years later, they had a fruit stand to sell to travelers passing down the road. Over the decades, this grew from a roadside stand into a market, a Ghost Town attraction, and a theme park - building ever onward.

Now Walter Knott - the head of the farm that eventually became a theme park - is a divisive figure, though growing up in Southern California, no child ever knew. His personality and drive truly rivaled his neighbor, Walt Disney. His legacy, however, is also just as large. Not only is it due to him that we have the magical theme park - which we will pay visit to a little later - but it's thanks to his assistance and dedication that the boysenberry was cultivated.

Boysenberries on the vine
Getty / Canva

The boysenberry is part of California's soil - and soul

If you've never tasted a boysenberry, I truly hope you have the opportunity one day. Like many of America's unique berries, the boysenberry has a flavor that is hard to describe in words. A cross between the raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, and dewberry, the boysenberry combines all of these flavors - most notably blackberry and raspberry - to create a rich, sweet fruit that is less tart than its predecessors.

The boysenberry was created in a California backyard, and brought to commercial success in California acreage owned by Walter Knott. It's no surprise that he then turned that berry into one of the core berries that were sold by Knott - adding to blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry. When Knott started producing jams and jellies, it was the Boysenberry Jam that sat distinctly as a staple of Southern Californian kitchens.

Indeed, the boysenberry is uniquely suited best for California's climate. And with Walter Knott's passing, the berry has since been losing the battle to time, facing extinction. Spectrum News 1 notes:

Boysenberries take an expert green thumb and time - lots of it. The fruit only grows on the part of the bush that has grown out from last year. And after waiting and pruning and digging out, the picked berries have a shelf life of about three days.

That's right. These delicious berries, which are so uniquely Californian, are also extremely limited in their availability and use. The Knott family farm, and Berry Market, were essential in bringing this delightful fruit jam to the world - and now it has been stolen from us by a corporation looking for "growth potential."

A split image; on the left is a Snoopy Mascot; on the right is a Mickey Mouse mascot
Knott's Berry Farm / Getty / Canva

Knott's was always in the shadow of something bigger

Let's go back to those bright, blue sky days of a Southern California summer. If you lived in Los Angeles or Orange County, you had a delightful bouquet of day trip options. SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Six Flags, Raging Waters, Disneyland, and Knott's Berry Farm, all fought for the honor of getting families through their gates. But of all these options - in addition to zoos, arcades, and countless mini-golf / water park combos - Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm stood unique opposed to each other.

To start with: Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm are only seven miles distant from each other. Their park entrances, in fact, are on the same major thoroughfare. This became a regular headache for drivers and park visitors, as frequently both interfered with each other's traffic as cars lined up for miles to get parked. More than this though: both were distinctly marketed as family affairs with rides for all ages, activities and popular mascots catered to children, and a schedule of events to last from open to close. The main difference - which mattered most to parents - was the price. Hands down, Knott's was always cheaper, from the entry ticket to the food costs.

For kids like me, where the middle class dream had crumbled into poverty around us, Knott's was a promise. Disneyland was a treat my family couldn't afford, and in the twenty years I lived only a half hour drive away from either park, I only visited Disneyland twice. One of those visits was when I was too small to retain the memory; the other was due to the generosity of my Girl Scout leaders. But Knott's? Knott's was almost every summer, often just the joy of myself and one good friend trapsing from ride to ride, with one of our mothers trailing behind.

The Knott's Berry Farm Ghost Town circa 1940s
Knott's Berry Farm / Canva

Knott's Berry Farm was in the shadow of Disneyland, even though it found its footing first. Knott's, not Disney, was the first to open an entertainment style attraction - but it was Disney who first offered the full theme park experience complete with rides. The long history of each park often looks like a zig-zag when you compare them. And in the Southern California culture of cruel kids, going to Knott's instead of Disneyland was a stigma.

Such a stigma wasn't attached to the jams and jellies that lined our soft peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No one knew, or really cared, if your jelly or jam was Smucker's or Knott's. But looking through the lens of this recent discontinuance, I can't help but see the similarities between the Disney-Knott's rivalry and that of Smucker's-Knott's. The J. M. Smucker company, while much older, didn't start producing jams and jellies until over a decade after Knott's (thanks to a Washington processing facility). It wasn't until the 1940s that those products were sold in southern California.

Decades later, it was Smucker's that was a household name, despite Knott's longer and more local history. While the Smucker's tagline - "With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good" - has been imprinted in my memory, I cannot think of a single commercial for Knott's Berry Farm jams. Nor have I been able to find any scouring the internet, leading me to believe that the brand relied on its theme park advertising to spread brand awareness, and its history and unique flavor to solidify itself as a household favorite.

Boysenberry Churros
Knott's Berry Farm / Canva

Knott's isn't what it used to be - as a park or as a fruit spread

Here I have to reign in my nostalgia, and look at the gloom of reality, as real as every June gloom that hung over our California summer fun.

Walter Knott passed away in 1981, and for over a decade, the Knott family kept the park and farm both in thriving condition. But for whatever reasons motivate such decisions, Knott's Berry Farm sold its food specialty products - the jams and cookies we now mourn - to ConAgra in 1995, who in turn sold them to Smucker's in 2008. In 1997, Knott's Berry Farm was purchased by Cedar Fair, which later merged with Six Flags in 2023.

Knott's Berry Farm - the Theme Park - has survived the COVID pandemic and even begun to thrive again. Its traditions, like the Boysenberry Festival and the Peanuts mascots, still continue. Unfortunately, Smucker's has decided that the jams that helped make Knott's so famous no longer have a place, except in our history.

There is one glimmer of light left for us that still hold on to that berry-bright past: Knott's Berry Market, under its own "Berry Market" brand, still sells its original recipe syrups, jams, and jellies, both in its Buena Park store and online. While the Knott's actual berry farm is long gone, a producer in Cambria is making the Berry Market products - using Cordelia Knott's original recipe.

While things have changed over 100 years, Knott's, the boysenberry, and a delicious part of California history still live on.

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