Head towards Sebastopol at any time of the year, and we can almost guarantee that you’ll see signs advertising something to do with Gravenstein apples. That’s because Gravensteins have a history that’s closely tied with Sonoma County, making them an edible piece of culture! The Gravenstein apple is an heirloom apple with a squat, round appearance and green or yellow coloring and red stripes. The flavor is tart but still sweet, which makes it an ideal apple for cooking with while still being delicious raw. It was first planted in the area in 1811 by Russian trappers; through the years, it continued to be grown as a staple crop of Sonoma County, especially during WWII. Literal tons of apples were either dried or cooked to support the massive war efforts, and a subsequently massive apple processing industry boomed in Sonoma County as a result.
Unfortunately, the Gravenstein is now is in very real danger of being wiped out. This is partially due to the fact that the apples themselves are quite delicate and prone to damage, but the real threat comes from loss of land devoted to apple growing. Orchards that traditionally produced Gravensteins are steadily being bought up and converted into more profitable vineyards or private, rural estates. Over the past 60 years, the areas of land devoted to the commercial production of Gravenstein apples have dwindled from 7,000 acres to just over 900. That’s a loss of over 6,000 acres! Efforts to save the Gravenstein have been going on since the 1980’s, thanks in part to the development of the Slow Food movement, but in spite of this, the Gravenstein is currently listed as an endangered food and is in danger of being lost forever.
So, what can you do to help? Luckily, the answer is simple: eat more Gravensteins! Purchasing the apples themselves helps by directly supporting the farmers who grow them – they’re one of the first apples to become ready, so you can find them in stores around Sonoma County starting in late July. You can also purchase products made from Gravensteins which, despite sometimes being indirect, is still a great way to support growers. Local brands such as Devoto Gardens craft these flavorful apples into everything from apple sauce to apple cider vinegar to hard cider; even our Oliver’s Own apple products are all made from 100% Gravensteins! Our products are made right here in Sonoma County by Solana Gold – since their inception, they’ve been dedicated to producing the best possible Gravenstein apple products, all while preserving old Gravenstein trees. In addition to supporting farmers through what you choose to buy, you can also attend Sebastopol’s annual Gravenstein Apple Fair! Held every August since 1910, you can show the Gravenstein some love all while playing games, eating great food, and enjoying the Sonoma County countryside!
Oliver’s is proud to be a part of the Sonoma County community, and we understand how vital it is to preserve our heritage while still looking towards the future. Come in and try one of our delicious Gravenstein apple products today and make sure these delicious pieces of history are around for generations to come!