The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

No Other Apple Need Be Grown - by Ron Skaar - July 2015


No Other Apple Need Be Grown

by Ron Skaar

Four thousand years ago, apple trees grew in the orchards of Asia Minor and Syria. Most of our eating apples originated from crossings of an ancient species from the Far East, with several Arab cousins. The domesticated apple expanded rapidly throughout the Middle East. In the Mediterranean region, the early Greeks enjoyed this fruit and then the Romans introduced it to the rest of Europe.

Crusaders, returning to Germany and Denmark, via Italy, brought back a very special apple variety. The Gravenstein apple is native to Grasten, in South Jutland, and remains Denmark’s national apple. It was discovered there by chance, in 1669. The red species is considered a sport or mutation, rather than, a true variety. The Austrians began growing this apple to make a high-quality brandy, Obstler. Norwegians erected a memorial to Johannes Aga who planted the first Gravenstein tree there, in 1792. 

At the same time, German migrants and Russian fur traders were introducing the New World to the Gravenstein. It is likely that the fur traders planted trees at Fort Ross around 1811. The variety grew particularly well along the west coast and flourished in Sonoma County, especially around Sebastopol. 

Near there, Luther Burbank raised this heirloom apple. “If the Gravenstein could be had through out the year, no other apple need be grown” he proclaimed. During World War II, the Gravenstein became the major source of all the apple sauce and dried apples consumed by our troops. 

Suburban development and the booming wine business began to push out the orchards. Also, as Mr. Burbank hinted, there are economic challenges inherent in growing the Gravenstein. It has a short and early harvest season, does not store or ship well, making gathering and selling more difficult than other varieties. This apple is also triploid; it requires pollination from another plant but does not reciprocate. 

Perhaps the difficulties are actually a blessing in disguise. With this fruit, enjoying it in season is everything. The Gravenstein is renowned for its exceptional sweet and tart flavors which make it ideal for snacking or baking. The apples unique green-yellow skin marked with dense orange-red striping, hides a creamy white flesh, rich in juice, making it ideal for preparing apple sauce and cider.

The skin holds its shape during baking while enhancing its fresh cooked flavors. In the savory world, pair the Gravenstien with chicken, pork, onion, mushrooms and robust cheeses. Combine with pear, vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate in pies and tarts. Adding apple sauce to cake and cookie recipes raises their moisture level and nutritional value. 

In 2005 Slow Food USA added the Gravenstein to its Heritage Food list and included this fruit in their Ark of Taste. Only six commercial growers and one processor remain in Sonoma County. The Gravenstein Apple Fair celebrates this treasured fruit August 8-9, in of course, Sebastopol at Rangle Ridge Park.

Janet Rudolf, (An advocate for preserving the heirloom/heritage variety of foods, disappearing from our markets) says, “Make a pie, save a tree!!!” She adds 1 cup fair-trade chocolate to her unique Gravenstein apple pie. Apples highlight a hearty summer salad. I’ve included:

Apple and Kale Salad with Pancetta and Candied Pecans

1 cup pecans

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

5 ounces thick sliced pancetta, diced

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon caper brine

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 Gravenstein or Pink Lady Apples, julienned

1 medium head of radicchio, shredded

One large bunch kale (stems discarded), shredded

2 ounces shaved pecorino cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak the pecans with water, transfer to sieve and shake out water. Toss the pecans in a bowl with the confectioners’ sugar, cayenne and salt. Arrange on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until caramelized. In a skillet, heat the oil and cook the pancetta until it is browned. Strain pan drippings to bowl and whisk in the vinegar, caper brine and maple syrup. Toss apples, radicchio and kale in dressing, mound on salad plates, garnish with pancetta, pecans and cheese. 6 servings