As I was walking down our farm’s “Apple Blossom Lane” to the goat barns recently, I noticed the telltale signs that our Gravenstein apple trees have fruit that is becoming ripe. For me this means it’s time to bake an apple pie!
Sebastopol’s Celebrated History With The Gravenstein Apple
Sebastopol is well known for Gravenstein apple trees. In 1820 the first west coast Gravenstein apple orchard was planted by Russian fur traders at their outpost in Fort Ross, according to a history page at the website of the last apple processing plant in Sebastopol, Manzana. Those first trees did well in the cool coastal weather. Soon orchards began cropping up in towns nearby with a large concentration of orchards planted and thriving in Sebastopol. Gravenstein apples gained worldwide recognition for their superior tart flavor and as they are a crisp and juicy apple. The Gravensteins are one of the first apple varieties to ripen in late July and early August. They do not hold their crisp texture in cold storage so must be eaten fresh, or used for juice, sauce, or baking to enjoy their superior flavor which is enhanced in the cooking process.
Situated in western Sonoma County which has beautiful and well-draining “Goldridge” soil, our farm is abundant with many varieties of fruit trees as well as hops and an olive grove. We utilize the composted manure from our goat barns to fertilize the orchards and gardens. During the winter months, our seasonal rains cause the compost to break down further to provide nutrients that make their way into the soil.
Redwood Hill Farm Has Cultivated Gravensteins For Over 50 Years
And though we have a variety of trees in our orchards, the apple trees have a special place in our hearts. You see, our original farm located just a few miles from here was situated in an old Gravenstein apple orchard. As children, we would collect the “drops” (apples that had fallen from the trees as Gravensteins are self-thinning) for fresh eating. When the trees were ready to pick we all took our turn, filling up bags and boxes of the light green colored, red-striped fruit.
It was then time to sit at our large dining table and help Mom make applesauce and pies. We chopped, peeled, and sliced for what seemed like an eternity to fill large pots of apples. On those canning days I remember Mom putting up quarts and quarts of applesauce! In addition, she froze apple pies to hold for the months when we would crave that taste of summer in a warm slice of apple pie.
The Perfect Baking Apple
In celebration of the Gravensteins ripening, here are two of my favorite apple recipes. Tried and true, these recipes will be perfectly made with Gravensteins. Find Gravenstein apples at many local Sonoma County markets, farmer’s markets, Andy’s Produce, and at Hale’s Apple Farm in Sebastopol on Gravenstein Hwy 116, north of town. But don’t wait, they won’t be here for long! If you cannot get Gravensteins, substitute with a tart baking apple such as Granny Smith or Jonathans.
For all things Gravenstein, attend the Gravenstein Apple Fair, “the sweetest fair in Sonoma County” on Saturday and Sunday, August 13 & 14, 2022 at Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol. Put on as a fundraiser for Sonoma County Farm Trails, go to gravensteinapplefair.com for more information, activities, and tickets.
Hurry Up Apple Pie
This is an easy, delicious recipe courtesy of my mother’s cousin Diane Knetchli.
- Fill pie pan 2/3 full of peeled, sliced apples. Sprinkle with 1 TBSP of brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.
- In a small bowl combine ¾ cup of melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 egg, ¼ to ½ cup of chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) and a pinch of salt. Pour over the apples.
- Bake at 350º for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Slice in wedges and serve.
Crunchy Apple Crisp
This is a vintage recipe that still holds up! It was first published in Better Homes and Gardens, in 1978.
4 cups sliced peeled Gravenstein apples
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup quick cooking rolled oats
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. finely shredded orange peel
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ cup unsalted butter
- Mound apples in an 8-inch round baking dish; sprinkle with orange juice.
- Mix oats, flour, sugars, peel, and spices. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over apples.
- Bake in 375º oven 45 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite topping. (I love vanilla ice cream!) Makes 6 servings.