Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple
Among thousands of California apple varieties, the heirloom Gravenstein is widely regarded as one of the best eating and baking apples. A fine balance of sweet and tart, its full-bodied flavor intensifies when made into sauce, juice, cider or vinegar. The apples also hold their shape beautifully in pies and tarts.
Warm, dry days, cool nights and Northern California’s mellow loamy soil provide ideal growing conditions for Sonoma County’s historic Gravenstein apple trees. The twisted trunk of a mature Gravenstein supports a 30-foot canopy laden with perfumed blossoms in the springtime. Some trees produce a prolific 2,000 pounds of fruit each.
Aficionados flock to Sebastopol during the Spring Apple Blossom Festival and again at the Gravenstein Harvest Festival in August.
As it ripens, the standard Gravenstein undergoes a pronounced change in color; from yellow or lime green, an intermediate light orange with red stripes, and finally to a medium orange with dark red stripes. Other apples oxidize after slicing, quickly turning an unappealing brown. Cut into a Grav and an orange tinge almost immediately blushes over the ivory flesh.
The Gravenstein was introduced to South Jutland, Denmark, in 1669, which is where it gained its name. German migrants brought the apple to North America in 1790 and Russian fur traders planted the first West Coast Gravenstein orchards at their outpost in Fort Ross in 1820, where the trees survived despite inhospitable conditions such as intense winds and salt air. It is likely that cuttings from theses trees were used to start the orchards in Sebastopol.
By the early 1900s thousands of Gravenstein orchards were established and the apple had become the heart of a major industry in Sonoma County as dryers, canners, apple cider and apple brandy producers took advantage of its suitability for processing. During World War II American troops were provided with applesauce and dried apples from Sebastopol Gravensteins, and this made the apple into an icon for the town.
Suburban development and the popularity of wine production have reduced the number of apple orchards in Sonoma County today. Some of the apple orchards grow on land that has been property of apple farming families for generations while others are operated by tenant farmers. These farmers rely on the support of landowners who could sell their land for grape production but have decided that the area’s apple tradition is more important than personal financial gain. Only a dozen commercial growers and two commercial processors remain in Sonoma County. Production in Sonoma County is now only a tiny fraction of its historic high levels, and continues to diminish as small farmers struggle to market their heirloom fruit.
The Presidium works to promote and protect farmers who nurture their apples from tree to table. Most of the Sebastopol growers farm land that has been in apple production for over a century. Their agricultural traditions yield sweet-tart, crisp, juicy and delicious Gravenstein apples.
Production Area: Sonoma County, California
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