Gravenstein apples have been called the best tasting baking apples on the market. In Sonoma County we would definitely agree. Precious and ephemeral, Gravenstein Apples grow in a riot of rich reds, yellows and greens. A fine balance of sweet and tart, these full-bodied apples are a local treasure.
The earliest recorded history of growing Gravenstein Apples is in South Jutland, Denmark in 1669. The apple then made its way to the United States in 1790 through German migrants and Russian fur traders. These apples were planted by Russian settlers at Ft. Ross in 1820. They went on to quickly become heirloom symbols and a rich part of Sonoma County’s history. In the late 1800s these Apples gained popularity when Nathaniel Griffith on the advice of Luther Burbank cultivated the Gravenstein Apple for commercial use. He came to California in 1883 and purchased 78 acres where he began planting these local apples. Luther Burbank went on to comment that the ‘Gravenstein cannot be successfully raised in the hot valleys of Southern California; Sonoma County seems to be its home.’ Gravenstein apples became a major crop in Sonoma County, California in the early to mid 1900’s where they were sold not only for fresh use but also as a processing apple for juice, sauce, vinegar and brandy. The 1910 Apple Show in Sebastopol featured Gravenstein Apples from trees at Fort Ross that were still bearing fruit after almost 100 years. During the first half of the 20th century, Gravensteins were the major variety of apples grown in western Sonoma County, and were the source for apple sauce and dried apples for the U.S. troops in World War II as part of their rations.
Most of the orchards in Sonoma County are now gone due to suburban development and the increase in wine production with its need for land. These two events heralded economic changes in the apple industry. Due to its early harvest season and short shelf life these apples have not been a successful commercial variety. In 2005, Slow Food USA declared the Gravenstein apple a heritage food and included it in their Ark of taste. Only six commercial growers and one commercial processor remain in Sonoma County as of 2006. There are under 1000 acres of trees as homes and vineyards cause the trees to be uprooted. Production in Sonoma County is currently 750,000 boxes (15,000 tons) of Gravensteins a year; a third of the fruit (250,000 boxes) is of premium market quality. Gravenstein apples are grown in California, Oregon, Washington State. In Sonoma County the Gravenstein apple is still a local favorite and is celebrated annually at the local Gravenstein Apple Fair.
At the Soap Cauldron we use both dried Gravenstein powder as well as Gravenstein Apple Extract for making our Gravenstein Apple & Clove bars. We also utilize these tart and savory apples in pie making that our crew loves to eat while packaging our bars. We combine Crisp and aromatic Gravenstein Apple with warm cloves, Shea Butter, natural botanicals and gentle base oils to create a fragrant and rich bar to cleanse skin naturally. The Softening Complex of Gravenstein Apple, Calendula and Lemon Balm work together to gently nurture and soften skin. Naturally retained glycerin soothes and moisturizes. You can find our Gravenstein Apple & Clove bars online at our Etsy store or any Saturday at the local Redwood Empire Farmers’ Market.