It’s apple season here in Sonoma County!!!
Gravensteins, to be exact. This early variety of apple was originally brought to California by Russian settlers around 1790. For over 100 years, Sonoma County was praised for its fruit trees, and Gravensteins were a major crop. At the turn of the 21st century, however, like many of our heirloom fruits, the Gravenstein started to disappear. Vineyards ended up being more profitable, and many farmers were forced to plow under their generations-old orchards home to scores of varieties of apples, peaches, and plums to grow grapes, primarily for large-scale wine production. But these heirlooms are are still around, and there are old trees scattered about the county. And, thanks to Slow Food’s efforts, Gravensteins are making a come back!
I was able to get my hands on a bunch of apples because of this great project called CropMobster. Farmers and organizations can send out alerts about extra produce, and advertise either gleaning opportunities, harvest parties, or uber discounts on gluts of produce. I get their alerts and when a local Christmas tree farm announced their ancient Gravenstein trees had a bumper crop, and anyone could come and pick, I jumped at the opportunity.
My friend Adriann came along, and together we filled the back of Matt’s company SUV with bags, buckets and baskets. I’d guess we gleaned at least 100 pounds. I took 3 bags full to the food bank, and we split the rest.
During apple season, my old school apple peeler is hands down my favorite kitchen tool. Have you ever used one of these? Stab the apple on the prongs, then crank away. The peel comes off in one strip, and the core is cut out, leaving you with (almost always) perfect apple rings.
The first few buckets went into the dehydrator. After drying 3 gallons worth, I moved onto apple sauce.
I’ve canned a dozen or so jars of apple sauce, and have some in the fridge waiting to be put into the crock pot to become apple butter. I found a recipe for carmel apple jam, that I hope to try as well. I also tried to can slices in a light syrup, but I got mostly mush. There are two ways to can whole or sliced fruit: hot pack or cold pack. Cold pack means you put raw fruit in a jar, and pour hot syrup over the fruit, then process. Hot pack involves simmering the fruit in the syrup for 5 minutes, then packing the jars and processing. According to both my Ball Preserving book and my Better Homes & Garden’s canning section, you can’t cold pack apples. Gravensteins are known for their excellent apple sauce, which I think is partially because they mush so easily. Next time, I’ll save the canning of slices for a firmer apple, like Granny Smith. I’ve still got more sauce to go, and hopefully some jars of apple & pear chutney.
Gravensteins have a short season. Like so much of our treasured fruit, they come in a flood and then they are gone. So despite the past few weeks complaining of having a sticky floor, not being able to sit at the table because its covered in fruit, and the apple peeler taking up valuable floor space while attached to the temporary island, come the rest of the year, I’ll be glad of my hard work.