August 15, 2012

Gravenstein Apples - A Labor of Love

Gravenstein Apples

"It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year,
no other apple need be grown."
 – Luther Burbank, horticulturist and ag science pioneer

As you peek into your Farm Fresh To You boxes this week, you'll find a special summer treat worth saving and savoring! Gravensteins, highly treasured heirloom apples, are crisp, juicy and delicious, and yet for many reasons, are in danger of becoming extinct.

Gravenstein Apples

In the era of big ag and convenience growing, the Gravenstein became an endangered species. The Slow Food movement took up the cause of “saving” the Gravenstein by encouraging restaurants and retailers to buy this heritage apple and by designating this variety an Ark of Taste food, “a catalog of 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction.” Slow Food also established a Presidium that “works to promote and protect farmers who nurture their apples from tree to table.”

In 2011, an article about Gravensteins in The New York Times summarized it nicely, “Like all classic heroes, however, the Gravenstein has a fatal flaw — or two. The apple ripens earlier than most, but does not travel or age well, unlike big-time brands like the Red Delicious, meaning that getting them to distant markets can be a challenge.”

Gravenstein Apples

We could not be more proud to partner with farmer John Kolling of Solana Gold Organics, whose extreme dedication and care for the Gravenstein has fulfilled our dream of finding enough of these rare apples that we are finally able to share them with you, our CSA members!

Interesting Facts from John about his "Gravs":

  • His “Gravs” come from many trees that are over 100 years old, with 30-foot canopies. 
  • He purposely doesn’t irrigate because forcing the trees to seek moisture builds character, crunch and intensifies aroma and flavor.
  • Gravs need to be hand-picked very carefully as they bruise easily in every color stage. 
  • The apple's skin color progresses seven different times over the life of the apple. It starts off a bright lime green then transitions to a medium orange color with faded red over-markings.
  • Gravenstein trees have three sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two, making the trees very large compared to other apple trees. Crutches are used to support the weight of their branches.

Gravenstein Apples
Due to an extra set of chromosomes, large Gravenstein trees often have to use crutches
to support the weight of their branches.

Gravensteins were first planted in California by Russian traders in the early 19th century and for over 100 years, they have found their home in Sebastopol. In addition to Sonoma County, this apple does well in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia.

Gravenstein Apples

What makes Gravenstein apples so unique?

  • Perfectly balanced flavor - sweet and tart!
  • Versatile fruit - great for cooking and baking.
  • Aromatic - sweet, floral smell
  • Early bloomers - these apples are some of the first of the season, and are harvested in July and August.
  • Passionate followers - There is a high demand for the apples and major supportive groups and events such as Slow Food, Apple Blossom Festival, Gravenstein Apple Fair.

Reasons why Gravensteins are on the endangered list:

  • Tall trees - difficult to reach the apples that are on the tallest parts of the trees.
  • Short, weak stems - causes apples to fall from the tree prematurely.
  • Diminishing farm land - higher demand and higher profit margin for wine grapes or real estate.
  • Uncertain harvest cycles and short shelf-life.
Gravenstein Apples
John Kolling takes us out into his orchard. You can tell how much we love his trees too!

Gravensteins, both sweet and tart, are great for eating raw, making applesauce and cider, and of course, baking in a pie. They are also known to make a delicious vinegar. The apple is crispy, juicy and aromatic.

We could not share these apples without the amazing work of John Kolling and his farm, Solana Gold Organics.  A big thank you to John for his labor of love!