For such an unassuming basic little fruit, the Gravenstein apple keeps drawing bigger and bigger attention — even as the local crop remains far below its record tonnage of several decades ago.
The annual fair that bears its name will take place this weekend for the 35th year and an international celebration was held in Sebastopol’s Town Plaza with celebrity chefs and harvesting demonstrations.
The Gravenstein apple is the first to ripen in Sonoma County and is considered one of the best eating and baking apples by locals and aficionados.
The harvest started the last week of July. “It was about one week early,” said Mark Fitzgerald, Manager of Manzana Products Co., Inc. located in Sebastopol. The harvest is now in full swing and employees are working from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week to press and prepare the apples to make applesauce and juice.
“This year’s apple crop is average or maybe even a little smaller than usual which will result in less tonnage,” said Fitzgerald. Most of the apples are measuring 2 1/4 or 1/2 inches rather than the average three inch. “If we get some showers in the weather forecast like they are predicting, that will help the size of the late apples, (Jonathan, Goldens, and Romes),” said Fitzgerald. The price paid to local farmers for apples this year has increased by $20-40 dollars per ton.
The apple industry has been pretty flat, and has seen hard times in recent years, but things are looking up. “Some farmers are planting more trees, and there is more organic fruit this year,” said Fitzgerald.
The Gravenstein Apple Fair, sponsored by the Sonoma County Farm Trails Association, takes place this weekend at Ragle Ranch Park. The fair offers tastes of just about anyway you can imagine cooking or preparing apples. Wine, beer and other concessions are also available and there is two days of free music and other entertainment with the general gate admission. Free shuttle serivce is available at O’Reilly & Associates and at the Holy Ghost Hall on Mill Station Road.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has taken the Gravenstein apple under its wing, and the local Russian River Slow Food Convivium has worked diligently over the past several years to promote the Gravenstein apple and support the farmers that grow them.
“The Board of Supervisors and the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce has declared August to be Gravenstein Apple Month in Sebastopol,” said Paula Shatkin of the Russian River Slow Food Convivium.
“For years Manzana has been promoting the Gravenstein apple doing our best to convince store brands to carry Gravenstein apple sauce and juice. It is wonderful that others have joined the crusade,” said Suzi Kaido, President of Manzana Products Co., Inc.
Fifty local restaurants throughout the county will feature Gravenstein apples on the menu and retail stores in Sebastopol will be decorating their windows with paintings depicting the Gravenstein apple, which is prized for its unique sweet and tart flavor.
“Our goal is to increase the price and value of the Gravenstein so that the people who grow them will want to stay in business and can make a decent living,” said Shatkin at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market on Sunday where the Gravenstein was the highlight. Fresh apple cider was served and a pressing demonstration took place.