Get a Gravenstein before they’re gone

Gravenstein: A small grenade of apple flavor, ready to explode in your mouth.

Gravenstein: A small grenade of apple flavor, ready to explode in your mouth.

Apples might as well be seasonless. Though most varieties ripen in the fall, they are available virtually anywhere, anytime. Apples last for months in cold storage, taste as good as new even in June, and may be the world’s most ubiquitous fruit.

But not the Gravenstein. An early-ripening variety, Gravensteins are only available for several weeks in midsummer, are only grown in Sonoma County and have virtually no commercial shelf life. In effect, the Gravensteins come and then are gone, almost all eaten locally. Now is the time to get them. Area markets carry them only sporadically. Keep your eyes peeled.

The orchards are centered around Sebastopol, west of Santa Rosa, where farmer Paul Kolling grows some 75 acres of Gravensteins under the business name Nana Mae’s Organics. Though nearly every other crop in California has been delayed almost a month by cool weather, not the Gravensteins. According to Kolling, that’s because the orchards are mostly dry-farmed. He says that denying the trees the pleasure of irrigated water stresses them, essentially inducing a state of botanical panic that spurs fast ripening of the fruits.

Dry-farming also produces smaller apples denser in flavor. Processing further condenses flavor, and Kolling, for one, sends 95 percent of his crop to a local processing house to be rendered into applesauce, juice and cider vinegar. These products are sold in jars bearing the Nana Mae’s label and can be found at the Davis Food Co-op. If you never find a fresh Gravenstein this year, don’t fret; some say that jarred sauce is the best way to taste them—essentially a condensed Gravenstein flavor bomb.

Kolling has also considered finding a place at one of the local farmers markets later this year, when Nana Mae’s Jonathan, Rhode Island greening, and Kolling golden apples—the latter of which originated as a seedling on his property 15 years ago—will be in season. By then, though, the fresh Gravensteins will be gone.