The FruitGuys is thrilled to announce the return of our annual Gravenstein Apple Box. This heirloom apple has a distinctive, delicious flavor and a tantalizingly brief harvest season: generally two weeks in late summer. Beloved by many for its sweet-tart flavor, the Gravenstein can be enjoyed in everything from applesauce to pies and cakes to muffins to quick bread to salads—or simply in the palm of your hand.
As in previous years, The FruitGuys is proud to donate 16% of the proceeds from each Gravenstein Apple Box back to the Sonoma County farmers who continue to produce this unique variety.
What’s so special about the Gravensteins of Sonoma County? The unique climate where they’re grown features morning coastal fog that dissolves into warm, sunny afternoons, favoring their production. Russian fur trappers were the first to plant the trees there in the early 1800s. Before vineyards became ubiquitous, the town of Sebastopol, CA, was known as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World.
Gravenstein harvesting in Northern California reached its peak around 1940 when there were 9,750 acres planted. Since then, pressure on land prices from the more lucrative wine industry, along with a big drop in the price of apples due to competition from imports, has made it increasingly hard to earn a living growing Gravensteins.
Another factor was the disappearance of apple processing plants—where growers sell their apples to be turned into sauce, juice, or vinegar. The relative fragility and tart taste of the Gravenstein favors it for processing, yet today there’s just one remaining apple processing plant in Sonoma County, the historic Manzana Products Company. As a result, many Gravenstein farmers have sold off plots of their land or converted acreage to grow wine grapes. Only about 700 acres of Gravenstein trees remain in production in the area.
“The Gravenstein Apple Box makes it possible for apple lovers nationwide to have access to this incredible heirloom fruit,” says Chris Mittelstaedt, The FruitGuys founder, and CEO. “As a company that prides itself on supporting American farms and delivering the best fruits to our customers, we’re honored to play a role in helping farmers preserve the Gravenstein apple.”
The Gravenstein continues to be treasured in Sonoma, and efforts to preserve the variety are gaining steam. The Gravenstein was officially designated a “heritage food” by Slow Food USA in 2005. As Paula Shatkin of Slow Food Russian River has said: “[Gravensteins] are iconic here. Because they are such a visible part of our identity and our cultural history. Because our economy has in the past revolved around them. Because they are SO beautiful. And because we have to fight to preserve biodiversity.”
The growing popularity of soft and hard ciders in recent years has also helped spur more interest and opportunity for local growers to market this fruit.
According to Sebastopol farmer Stan Devoto (Devoto Gardens & Orchards), toward the end of harvest, Gravensteins have great flavor and the level of sugars and acidity are perfect for hard cider: “By the third week, they’re like a dessert apple—really good. And they make an incredible hard cider.”
Sebastopol hosts its annual Gravenstein Apple Fair in August to promote the apple with two full days of tasting activities—think pies, sauces, ciders!—along with live music, art and craft vendors, and plenty of kids and family events.
Even if you can’t make it to Sebastopol, you can enjoy this delicious fruit while also helping the people who grow it. Each Gravenstein Apple Box contains information about the apple’s history and its farmers, plus recipes to make sweet and savory treats.
Gravenstein Apple Boxes can be ordered at fruitguys.com/gravenstein in organic and conventional options with 16-, 24-, and 48-count sizes. The boxes are available for delivery Tuesday through Thursday from August 14 to 23. The last day to place an order is Monday, August 20.
Elisabeth Flynn is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor, and has spent the last 15 years working in the nonprofit/social innovation sector, including stints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness provider.