About Boehm's Cafe...and how it all came to be...

 

Boehm's Cafe was founded in 1945 by Emil and Mary Boehm.

Boehm's Cafe (1945-1964)

When my parents, Emil and Mary Boehm, ventured into Humboldt County in California's Redwoods country and impulsively bought a small cafe in Pepperwood on Highway 101 in 1945, they really didn't know what they were getting into, but they liked the idea.  What were they thinking? My Dad became the cook, first time ever, turning out delicious burgers, roasts and pancakes, while my Mother specialized in baking fresh fruit and berry pies in flaky crusts and hearty soups.  As the 10-year old daughter, I peeled potatoes and got in the way.  My parents treated customers liked they had been invited into the Boehm family kitchen for a good meal.  There were some hard times when it rained enough for the Eel River to rise to flood level and business was poor.  When the 1955 flood took the cafe down the river, we rebuilt but the 1964 flood destroyed the town and us.  That year, a massive rainstorm in December along with a heavy melting snowpack combined to cause a thousand-year flood, turning the Eel River from a river you could throw a rock across to being a mile wide!  The wreckage of our cafe made the cover of LIFE Magazine.  We never re-built after that.

LIFE Magazine Cover - January 8, 1965

In my childhood memories, they were all good years - the very best:

We always had enough to eat.  We made customers happy and full.  We had friends who came for a burger, conversation, and my Mom's apple dumplings.  Yum!  Ah, life in the backwoods, in a small cafe.  What could be better?

Joy Boehm Frasier Worrell with the full line of Boehm's Cafe Specialty Foods products, December 2008.

I was beginning at the end.

In her later years, my mother lived with me in Hawaii. It seems strange now, when I think of it, but we never made the relish from the time the second restaurant was taken by the Eel River flood in December, 1964.  Before she passed away in 1995, she wrote down the recipe from memory so I could make a small batch if I wanted. I don’t know why she remembered the relish when so much was going on at the end of her life. I tucked the recipe away and didn’t look at it or think of it until nearly 8 years later.

When I moved back to Humboldt County, I visited Pepperwood often and bought produce from the Kreb farm, Flood Plain Produce at the north end of town. In fact, their home was right next to our old property and Holly Kreb said that I might be interested in looking behind their house, where the restaurant had been. I went looking there and found the metal railings that my father had built into the entry porch to the restaurant’s front door, still above ground. The porch itself was buried under the dirt deposited from the flood.

A beautiful circle of Redwood trees had grown up around the railings over the years, quite like a small cathedral. Tears came, as I remembered all the happiness we had in this place. Then I went home to Fortuna, dug out the recipe and began a revival of food I remembered from those days. The first, the relish, I decided to call Eel River Relish.

Mary Boehm (1913-1995)