Gravenstein is a variety of apple native to Grasten in South Jutland, Denmark. The variety was discovered in 1669 as a chance seedling, although there is some evidence that the variety originated in Italy and traveled north. The skin is a delicately waxy yellow-green with crimson spots and reddish lines, but the apple may also occur in a classically red variation.
The Gravenstein was introduced to western North America in the early 19th century, perhaps by Russian fur traders, who are said to have planted a tree at Fort Ross in 1811. The Gravenstein apple was introduced to the Canadian province of Nova Scotia in the 19th century. Charles Rammage Prescott, the father of the Nova Scotian apple industry, grew Nova Scotia’s first Gravensteins in his orchard at Acacia Grove. By 1859, Gravenstein trees were commonly cultivated on Nova Scotian farms. The Gravenstein apple is still considered the choicest apple by many Nova Scotians.
The Gravenstein apple is considered by many to be one of the best all-around apples with a sweet, tart flavor and is especially good for baking and cooking. It is picked in July and August and is known as a good cooking apple, especially for apple sauce and apple cider. It does not keep well, so it is available only in season. In addition, their short stems and variable ripening times make harvesting and selling difficult.
The red Gravensteins, are considered a sport rather than a true variety. The flesh is juicy, finely grained, and light yellow. Trees are among the largest of standard root varieties, with a strong branching structure. The wood is brownish-red and the leaves are large, shiny, and dark green. It grows best in moderate, damp, loamy soil with minimal soil drying during the summer months. Locations close to watercourses and edges of ponds are preferred. Gravensteins will not thrive in areas of high groundwater and require moderate protection against wind.
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. Most of the orchards in Sonoma County are now gone due to a combination of suburban development, a shift to wine production, and economic changes in the apple industry. Only six commercial growers and one commercial processor remain in Sonoma County as of 2006. In 2005, Slow Food USA declared the Gravenstein apple a heritage food and included it in their Ark of taste. Slow Food USA reports that production in Sonoma County is currently 15,000 tons of Gravensteins a year.