Author of The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, Linda Ziedrich likes to cook with every sort of food she can grow in Scio, Oregon.

World’s best apple

Have you eaten a Gravenstein?

By
August 17, 2010

“The Gravensteins are almost ripe,” I emailed my mother. “Want some?”

Her reply came five minutes later: “We’ll be down after dinner.”

Still farming at age 80, my parents hadn’t had time to come to dinner for a long time. But they would drop everything and drive two hours for a bucket of Gravenstein apples.

Who wouldn’t? As Luther Burbank wrote, “It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.”

This broad green apple, often striped with red, is wonderfully tart, sweet, juicy, and aromatic. It ripens early, beginning in late July, to provide relief from the long hunger for fresh apples. The Gravenstein isn’t a keeper; its short stem often makes it fall, and its moist, crisp flesh bruises easily.

But there are plenty of good ways to preserve this apple, bruised or not. I believe it makes the very best sauce, butter, pies, sweet cider, and hard cider.

The Gravenstein originated in the 17th century in Denmark, where it is still well appreciated; in 2005, the Danish food minister declared it the national apple. Russian otter hunters planted it, along with other fruits, at Fort Ross on the northern California coast in 1820, and their orchard became the foundation of a thriving Sonoma County apple industry. Growing up in Santa Rosa, I ate little besides Gravensteins for a month every summer.

Sadly, California apple orchards have been pushed out by housing tracts, vineyards, and imports of apple-juice concentrate from China. Only 900 acres of Gravenstein orchards remain in Sonoma County, and the only other North American Gravenstein orchards are in Nova Scotia. Slow Food recently listed the Sebastopol Gravenstein in its catalog of “forgotten flavors.”

Linda’s favorite apples.

Although the Gravenstein prefers a cool, coastal climate, it does grow elsewhere. In my flat, low-lying Willamette Valley orchard, I get a crop at least every other year. This year’s crop is big. The apples may not be as good as Sonoma County Gravensteins, but they are very, very good.

If somebody offers you apples in mid-August or earlier, there’s a good chance they’ll be Gravensteins. If they start softening faster than you can eat them, here’s what to do: Peel, core, and slice them, and freeze them for pies and crisps. Or heat the pieces in a covered pot, and soon you’ll have applesauce with a heavenly fragrance and texture — with no mashing or puréeing.

Do you hate peeling and coring apples? Then simply cut them into pieces before cooking them. Sieve out the skins and seeds, add sweet cider or brown sugar or both along with spices, and cook the purée uncovered until it becomes a thick apple butter, a fine treat to put away for winter breakfasts.

If you’re lucky enough to have several boxes of Gravensteins, press them into cider yourself. (You can rent a crusher and press from a brew store.) It will be the best cider you’ve ever tasted, and it will ferment into an outstanding hard cider with no other apple varieties added. Before the cider ferments, if you like, boil some down into an amazing no-sugar-added syrup or jelly.

If you are so unlucky as to lack a Gravenstein tree, or any friend with a Gravenstein tree, hope is not lost. Gather your nursery catalogs, and start figuring out where you’ll plant your own Gravenstein tree this coming winter.

Culinate editor’s note: This post also appeared on Linda Ziedrich’s blog, A Gardener's Table.

Related recipe: Apple Butter

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1. by Foodie in Berlin on Aug 17, 2010 at 8:51 AM PDT

I have not heard of this variety before in London. Now I am in Berlin. Do the names of apples change from country to country or do they stay the same?

2. by Linda Ziedrich on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:46 AM PDT

I have read that the Gravenstein is popular in Germany, where I would expect it to go by this German name, though I found the apple mentioned in one reference as Gravensteiner. The French name, according to another source, is pomme Gravine. According to the blog of Chilly Farm, Maine (http://outonalimbcsa.com), other names for the Gravenstein are Blumen-Calvill, Diel’s Sommerkonig, Early Congress, Paradies Adfel, Ripp Apfel, and Tom Harryman. But I am unable to verify any of this.

3. by giovannaz on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:08 AM PDT

It does take a mind shift to start eating apples in August, when there’s still berries and peaches to be had--but with Gravensteins it’s well worth it.

My mother and grandmother always used Gravensteins in their applesauce, which they put up in quart jars every summer. I only do it once every few years, more often freezing slices to use in pie or applesauce throughout the winter.

Thanks for reminding me to watch for them!

4. by Foodie in Berlin on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:50 AM PDT

Thank you for looking into that for me, there is a place called Apfelgalerie here in Berlin that seems to specialize in all things apples, so I will go there with those names and see if I have any success!

5. by Ronnie Fein on Aug 17, 2010 at 5:16 PM PDT

Love Gravensteins! Gonna call Blue Jay Orchard. I usually get them in late September but maybe they’re ready now!!!

6. by caleb bo baleb on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:30 PM PDT

Our neighbor’s tree starts dropping apples on our garage in early August, but we had no idea what variety they were. To save cleaning up the mess later, we went and picked pounds and pounds of them this year, and they are just as you describe - sweet, tart, and aromatic. The tree is at least 60 years old and produces an amazing crop about every other year. Thanks for the wisdom!

7. by Fasenfest on Aug 18, 2010 at 7:00 AM PDT

Hey Linda,

Even the ones I picked off the ground under your trees were lovely in sauce. Honestly - maybe a little tarter than normal but with the help of a little brown sugar and cinnamon the kids ate it up real good. Gravensteins are on my food preservation hit list for making applesauce and I’ve been waiting for them. I know Jossy Farms grows them and I’ve been a’wait’n for the day of their ripening. Could be this week.

8. by rtysons on Aug 18, 2010 at 10:36 AM PDT

Gravensteins are my favorite apple, and I SO miss having access to them. I’m not sure they’d grow up here anyway, and even if they did we might never be able to keep the bears from eating them first.

9. by TRISTA on Aug 18, 2010 at 11:23 AM PDT

You’ve made me nostalgic for my grandmother and her Gravensteins. I loved those apples and held a grudge against the prolific Red Delicious because Gravensteins were never in the store.

I don’t have a tree or a friend with a tree...does anyone know of a Portland-area farmers’ market with Gravensteins?

Just the name of the apple brings back crisp memories. I can only imagine what the taste will bring back.

10. by anonymous on Aug 19, 2010 at 9:27 PM PDT

I’m reading this with the scent of slow cooking Gravenstein applesauce wafting up the stairs! Thank you for the wonderful article - I’m lucky enough to live in Sonoma County & have been enjoying the Gravensteins for a couple of weeks now. Never even thought of apple BUTTER - too focused on the apple sauce! - but will definitely give it a try...Thanks for the wonderful column!

11. by Nino Marchetti on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:29 PM PDT

Ironically, this weekend in the Hood River, Oregon area it is Gravenstein Apple weekend (http://www.hoodriverfruitloop.com/documents/Postergravensteincelebration.pdf) I’ll be heading up for the first time to check it out!

12. by Nino Marchetti on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:30 PM PDT

You can also get info on the Hood River event here: http://www.hoodriverfruitloop.com/calendar/apple.html

13. by Linda Ziedrich on Aug 24, 2010 at 9:28 AM PDT

Nino, thanks for sharing the information on the Hood River Gravenstein Apple Celebration. I didn’t know about this festival--or even that Hood River orchardists were growing Gravensteins.

14. by Ronnie Fein on Aug 24, 2010 at 11:18 AM PDT

already bought several and already ate all of them. YUM. Now I’m waiting for the Rhode Island Greenings so I can bake some pies.

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