Slow Food's Gravenstein Apple Promotion: Make a Pie, Save a Tree

To the people who know them, Gravenstein apples are pie apples. One of the first varieties to appear in the markets in late summer, they have a bright acidity and a gorgeous aroma that survives even after the apples have been baked or simmered for hours.

There are currently 900 acres of Gravensteins left in Sonoma County, writes Paula Shatkin, who's coordinating the Sebastopol Gravenstein presidium through Slow Food's Russian River chapter. Slow Food's presidium efforts attempt to preserve heirloom/heritage varieties of foods that are disappearing from commercial farms and markets. This year, the group is launching a Gravenstein promotion to pay local farmers enough for the apples so they can afford to keep their trees.

Gravensteins face two challenges. The first is commercial viability. "Gravensteins have short stems," Shatkin e-mailed SFoodie yesterday, "so the majority fall to the ground and are used for applesauce, vinegar, and juice. The farmers make very little money on the ground apples ― barely or not enough to make it worth picking them up. Gravensteins also ship poorly."

The second challenge, not surprisingly, is that in Sonoma County apple trees aren't as profitable as grapevines. "We took this project on about seven years ago when there was a frantic pace of vineyard conversions going on up here," Shatkin wrote. "You could see apple orchards being attacked with chainsaws on every country road."

The Fruit Guys, a San Francisco company that provides fresh, local fruit for office snack rooms, is working with Slow Food Russian River this year to bring Gravensteins to the public. The cost for a five-pound box is $20, and the proceeds will go to the 20 participating farmers ― Shatkin emphasized that this is not a fundraiser for Slow Food. If you have the apples delivered to your workplace, the Fruit Guys will ship the box for free (great advertising for its services), but to ship the apples to your residence only costs $2 extra. Order a box by calling (877) FRUIT-ME (877-378-4863) or e-mail The fruit will be delivered either on Wednesday, August 18, or Wednesday, August 25.

Five pounds of apples makes a couple of pies (when SFoodie lived in Seattle, where Gravensteins are just as good and just as scarce, we learned that if you add in a few Granny Smiths, you can stretch your supply further without sacrificing much of the flavor). If you're lazy to bake your own, or want to pick up apples in the heart of Gravenstein country, the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair is taking place Saturday and Sunday, August 14-15, with fritters, caramel apples, cakes, turnovers, cobblers, and pies for sale.

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