Gravenstein Apple SeasonAugust 26, 2010
I am never ready for Gravenstein apple season. My head is still in traditional summer fruit mode- peaches, plums and berries. Rightly or wrongly when I think of apples I think of fall. This hot weather doesn’t help get me in gear.
Gravenstein apple harvest begins in mid August, a couple of months before other apples. Unlike other apple varieties Gravenstiens don’t store well so you have to enjoy them fresh. If you haven’t had them by mid September you are out of luck. Once again, I missed The Gravenstein Apple Fair. To remember I just put it on my Google calendar for next year.
Gravensteins are sweet, tart, juicy and crispy. Other apples have only a couple of these characteristics but Gravenstiens have them all. Their color is greenish red and a little dull. They may not look like the quintessential apple but don’t let their appearance fool you. Gravenstein apples make the best pies and applesauce.
In The United States Gravenstein apples, like Meyer lemons, are found almost exclusively in California. Highway 116 in Sonoma County is also known as The Gravenstein Highway. The Gravenstien came to Sonoma in the early 1800’s via Denmark and Russia. (In 2005 Demark made the Gravenstein its national apple). It is hard to determine who actually planted the very first trees but it is believed they were at the Russian settlement of Fort Ross in Sonoma. During World War II there were about 8000 acres of Gravenstein apples in Sonoma. Soldiers received dried apples and applesauce made from Gravensteins as part of their rations. Today there are under 1000 acres of trees as more homes and vineyards caused the trees to be uprooted. Slow Food has put the Gravenstein on its list of heritage foods.
In other apple trivia, in Colonial America apples were used mostly to make apple cider. Fermented it didn’t spoil and was safe to drink. Nothing like starting your day with a kick in your juice. Also in ancient Greece tossing an apple was a proposal of marriage and if you caught it you accepted the proposal. Be careful when you toss an apple to a coworker or friend.
When you bring your Gravensteins home, if you are not going to use them right away put them in the refrigerator. It may be tempting to leave a bowl on the counter but they deteriorate faster at room temperature.
It’s still not too late to jump into the season. I make apple sauce to eat by itself, spread over toast in the morning or serve as a condiment with cold chicken. It makes a great sandwich when paired with the rotisserie porchetta from the Saturday Farmer’s Market. To make apple sauce you don’t really need a recipe. Core and cut the apples into 1/2 inch pieces. (Gravensteins have thin skins so I don’t bother to peel them and they give the apple sauce a little color.) Put in a pot with a little water, sugar and a cinnamon stick. You can add other spices like ginger, or allspice but I like the clean flavor of just the apples and the cinnamon. Let them cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. If they don’t give off much juice, add some more water. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the apples are soft. If you like your applesauce thick cook off more of the liquid. You can keep it chunky or puree it if you like it smooth. At any point you can add more sugar. The sugar amount will vary on the natural sweetness of the apples. In the refrigerator applesauce will last for weeks.
Luther Burbank, the botanist who developed the Santa Rosa plum and the freestone peach, said “If the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.” Unfortunately we aren’t so lucky so we have to enjoy it while we can.