My brother baked me a Gravenstein Apple pie for my birthday. His flaky delicate crust, a combination of butter and lard, filled with the absolute best pie apple, the increasingly hard-to-find Gravenstein, was the best birthday present he could have given me. John’s Gravenstein Apples came from his own apple tree but Sonoma County’s delicious heirloom apples are in danger of disappearing. It is grown almost exclusively in Sonoma County, California (and in Nova Scotia). But it is very delicate and perishable so it does not travel well and its growing season is very short. It is in danger of becoming extinct because of the conversion of many apple orchards to vineyards. As a result, its production is now at historic lows with only a handful of commercial growers remaining. I haven’t found Gravenstein apples in my local market for quite a while and I live only 100 miles from Sonoma County.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no apple that comes close to the flavor of a Gravenstein for pies and apple sauce, and it is a delicious eating apple as well, tart and sweet and crisp. Even Sonoma County’s beloved world famous horticulturalist, Luther Burbank, who developed, among many things, the Russet Burbank potato (think McDonald’s French fries), a hearty, blight resistant potato to help with the devastation in Ireland following the great potato famine, was quoted as saying, “It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.” I took this photograph in my brother’s backyard. Most of the Gravensteins had been harvested and this is a pair of apples on a volunteer apple tree, a sport of the Gravenstein.

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