How many different ways can you eat and drink boysenberry? Seventy-five to be exact, if you can stomach it all.
Knott's Berry Farm will be serving them all during the Boysenberry Festival starting Saturday in the Ghost Town section of the Buena Park theme park.
There will be boysenberry salsa, boysenberry ice cream, boysenberry mustard, boysenberry taffy, boysenberry cheese, boysenberry butter, boysenberry relish, boysenberry aioli and boysenberry barbecue sauce. And more than five dozen other boysenberry-infused foods and drinks - if you haven't turned purple yet.
I taste-tested about a dozen of the festival's food offerings during a media preview in the Wilderness Dance Hall and found everything to be a notch above your average theme park fare.
New this season is the Fun Stick, which basically adopts the county fair recipe for carnival food: Take a novelty food item (in this case cheesecake), dip it in batter, deep fry it and stick a stick in it. Knott's adds a dollop of boysenberry sauce as a finishing touch. My first bite was mostly dough, but as I got closer to the middle of the deep-fried dessert I found the melting cheesecake, which combined with the dough tasted a bit like a cheese Danish. The cheesecake is made fresh daily in the Knott's on-site bakery.
The Fun Stick tries to replicate the success of last season's Fun Bun - a deep-fried cinnamon roll with boysenberry cheese topping. For my money, the Fun Bun remains the best item on the Boysenberry Festival menu. If you're going to be bad why not go all the way and be wickedly evil with the Fun Bun? You'll want a defibrillator after this one - and a nap.
My second favorite festival food during the preview event was the trifle with a scoop of boysenberry ice cream on top, whipped cream and boysenberry topping. The fluffy sponge cake paired perfectly with the ice cream, which I found to be best boysenberry delivery system of the festival.
You can’t go wrong with any of the meats slathered with the finger-licking good boysenberry barbecue sauce. Knott’s has perfected the sweet and tangy sauce, which adds a nice kick to such offerings as ribs, chicken, wings and pulled pork. New this year was the marinated short ribs served over rice. To my surprise, the festival menu did not include fried chicken, a staple on the Farm since Cordelia Knott opened her restaurant in 1934.
The effort-to-reward ratio seemed a bit high with the boysenberry-stuffed flauta - with the powdered sugar-dusted tortilla rolled too tightly, leaving little room for the sweet payoff on the inside. Given a choice, I'd probably go for the boysenberry-stuffed churro instead.
Less successful was the deep-fried alligator bites with boysenberry aioli. The alligator lacked any flavor and was too chewy for my taste. The understated aioli sauce was the best part of the meal despite it's garish purple color. But don't listen to me. Follow the crowds. The alligator bites had the longest lines and biggest raves of last year's festival.
I was disappointed in the boysenberry meatball on a stick with boysenberry barbecue sauce. I had high expectations for this one and found the three meatballs on a skewer to be too bready and bland.
My least favorite item on the tasting menu was by far the boysenberry panna cotta with almond crumble. The grayish-violet creamy gelatin didn't have much flavor and looked like Hawaiian poi - quite possibly the worst tasting food on the planet. It gives me shivers just to think about it.
Over all, I was surprised how understated the boysenberry was in most of the festival dishes. I expected to leave with a jammy pucker on my palette, but I experienced just the opposite. More often than not I wanted another bite, even as I tried desperately to pace myself through the menu.
Two items I wanted to try weren't available at the media preview: The boysenberry fish and chips and the foot-long hot dog with boysenberry relish and boysenberry ketchup. But that is the point of the festival: To get foodies to come out to the park, try a few new things and leave a few others for another visit.
A tasting garden in the Wilderness Dance Hall will include traditional wine and craft beers in addition to boysenberry varieties. Beyond booze, there will be a bounty of boysenberry beverages, including sodas and milkshakes. The park's new Starbucks is getting in on the action as well with a boysenberry Frappuccino. And there's even something called a Walter Knott - an Arnold Palmer-esque blend of iced tea and boysenberry lemonade.
Live entertainment during the event will include line dancing, DJ music, pie eating contests, jug bands and dueling fiddlers. Longtime Knott's fans can pose for photos with classic Bear-y Tales characters including Razz Bear-y and Boysen Bear-y in the Craft Barn.
The park traces its boysenberry heritage to the 1930s when Walter Knott harvested the fruit - a cross between a loganberry, red raspberry and blackberry. Knott named the berry after its originator, Rudolph Boysen.
The 16-day Boysenberry Festival runs through April 3 at Knott's.
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