Seasonal Alert: Gravensteins! An heirloom apple to reckon with
ideal for making applesauce and (when very fresh) Always Right Apple Pie and Big Chunky Apple Cake with Pecans, among other baked items, also terrific fried in butter – to say nothing of simply eating out of hand.
I was actually shopping for tomatoes to sample (our bout with the blight means we’ll be buying whatever I put up for the winter), when there right in front of me among the more usual offerings were bags of Gravensteins.
This happy discovery was made at Schoolhouse Farm, in Warren, Maine. The owner, Bill Beckwith, has a high opinion of Gravensteins for fresh eating. He put in the trees 25 years ago and has continued to sell the fruit, even though it’s not a fast mover. “Not very many people know about them,” he said.
Gravensteins are the first early apples with real sweet-tart apple flavor, able to hold their own for deliciousness with the best of the later harvest, although they’re far less firm. But their season is short; they don’t keep well – in fact they hardly keep at all – and almost all of the commercial crop is grown in California.
On the Slow Food Ark of Taste they’re called ” Sonoma Gravensteins,” and I learned to love them in my Berkeley days, so they’re sort of California in my mind, too. Yet there’s no reason the left coast should claim them.
Or at least there didn’t use to be. Gravensteins came to the US from Northern Europe ( exactly where therein unknown), early in the 19th century, and they probably landed on the West and East coasts at about the same time. Maine apple expert John Bunker’s local orchard history, Not Far From The Tree, points out that by the 1880’s they were, in their season, the most popular apple in the state.
They’re still a major commercial fruit in parts of Nova Scotia, and that would lead into discussing “local” as meaning “from the bioregion,” except that I think I’ll go make a pie, having read in Not Far From The Tree:
” It is frequently mentioned as the best of all pie apples. I had a wonderful conversation a few years ago with Mary Jones who had recently won the Maine State Pie Championship with a Gravenstein pie. She described in detail all she went through to save the apples until the January State Championship.”
I’ve only been saving ’em since yesterday, but why wait? There’s a whole parade of heirloom apples headed in our direction along with the onset of autumn.