Easing down from the hills into the flat flood plains of the Eel River doesn’t mean leaving country courtesy behind. The Avenue of the Giants winds through almost frighteningly large Redwood trees but the people of the river valley welcome visitors like they were next door neighbors. Even in November, a produce stand in the miniscule town of Pepperwood (population 60) basks in sunshine and opens its shutters to passersby, sometimes without even a farmer manning the booth. Instead, a simple request to drop money in a slot is painted on a cheery sign.
Sweet Walla Walla onions nestle in wooden boxes next to dark green acorn squash. Zucchinis and Golden Delicious apples rub shoulders in battered baskets. But best of all are the indigenous taste treats—delicious delicacies found almost exclusively in Humboldt County. Come inside, there’s homemade popsicles in the freezer–$1. Help yourself. Although advertised as blackberry, the sweet treats are almost surely made from the large black Himalayan berries that many nativists consider an invasive weed but old time locals often prefer to the more domesticated fruit. The purple indulgence tastes like cold blackberry pie-sweet and dusky as a summer evening.
The Waltana apples though were the real find. Created by Walter Etter, a well-known local horticulturalist from the turn of the last century, they are green with a flush of red stripes. Crisp, sweet and firm they were cultivated by the “hillbilly Luther Burbank”, as the founder of the small Humboldt town of Ettersburg was known. Delicious in pies especially but so crunchy and sweet that it is challenging to sneak them past devouring mouths and cook them up for dessert, the Waltana apples are hard to find in stores. However, knowledgeable local farmers usually have trees for their personal use.
If you get a chance, meander on down to Pepperwood and enjoy some of the best flavors of the season offered with the easy welcome of a Southern Humboldt farmer.