The Gravenstein apple is one of the earliest—if not the first—apple to ripen in the Northern Hemisphere each year. It comes to harvest as early as late July and early August, a good month or two ahead of most fall-harvest apples.
Considered one of the best all-around apples, the Gravenstein has a crisp, slightly acidy, tart-sweet flavor and is juicy with a full apple aroma. The Gravenstein—which has been in cultivation for at least 350 years—just might be the perfect embodiment of a delicious “old-fashioned” apple.
The Gravenstein is not only tasty for eating out of hand but is excellent for baking and cooking. Use the Gravenstein to make the season’s first apple pies, sauce, and cider.
In the kitchen, the flavor of the Gravenstein actually intensifies when cooked. After you bake or cook a Gravenstein, you will still taste the Gravenstein flavor. There is no generic overly-sweet apple flavor to cooked or baked Gravensteins.
The Gavenstein is an irregularly round-shaped apple, almost squat. It has a thin smooth greenish-yellow skin with light to dark red stripes.
Because the Gravenstein is thin skinned, it bruises easily and does not ship well. Whatismore, the Gravenstein is short stemmed, meaning it will easily fall from the tree without much encouragement.
If those two factors were not enough to take the Gravenstein off the list of “apples made for modern commercial success”, the apples on a Gravenstein tree do not ripen at the same time. A Gravenstein tree may require multiple harvests and can be labor intensive.
Of course, none of those factors detracted from the Gravenstein when apples were grown, harvested, and sold locally. But these days, the Gravenstein can barely compete against tougher, all-in-one harvest apples.
Perhaps that is why in places where the Gravenstein is grown, it is celebrated. In western Sonoma County, California—where the largest Gravenstein harvest in the United States occurs–the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair—which is timed to the harvest—happens this weekend in the small town of Sebastopol.
Gravenstein orchards once accounted for 7,000 acres in Sonoma County. Today—because the Gravenstein can not compete with apples that can travel to far-away markets, there are just 960 acres of Gravenstein trees in Sonoma County.
The second largest harvest of Gravensteins in North America comes in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Annapolis Valley celebrates the Gravenstein and other apples at its annual Apple Blossom Festival in May.
The Gravenstein came to North America in the nineteenth century—to what is today Sonoma County with Russian fur traders in about 1811 and to the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century.
The exact origin of the Gravenstein is unclear. Some say the Gravenstein is native to Gråsten in South Jutland, Denmark where it was discovered growing in 1669. Others say it was first grown in Italy before traveling to Denmark. Whatever may be true, the Gravenstein is the national apple of Denmark today.
Because the Gravenstein is unable to compete in the world-wide marketplace where apples are available throughout the world even when they are not in season, Slow Food USA—which is dedicated to maintaining biodiversity and forgotten flavors–declared the Gravenstein a heritage food in 2005. With that designation, the Slow Food movement has taken on the preservation of the Gravenstein as a special project.
If you should find Gravenstein apples at your farm market, get them while you can. The Gravenstein is not a long-keeper; it is delicate and perishable. The Gravenstein is truly a local apple; it is best eaten out of hand, cooked, or baked within about a three-week period of harvest.
Early harvest Gravensteins are the best. Gravensteins that come on the market in the fall can be soft and mealy.
How to Get a Clementine Tree to Bloom
Found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10, the evergreen “Clementine” (Citrus reticulata “Clementine”) is a type of tangerine, often referred to as a mandarin orange. This warm weather plant can be grown in containers and moved indoors for winter protection in colder climates. The “Clementine” is easy to grow and generally will produce a flourish of white blooms and then fruit as long as it is provided with the proper care, including direct sunlight, well-drained soil, weekly irrigation and protection from frost. There are also a few other ways to encourage your clementine tree to bloom.
Grow only “Clementine” trees that have been grafted and avoid plants started from seed. Although considered seedless, the fruit of the “Clementine” often contains at least a few seeds, but there is no guarantee that these seeds will produce a plant that shares the qualities of its parent or fruit at all.
Plant another tangerine variety within 50 feet of your “Clementine” to provide cross pollination and increase production. Choose another hybrid tangerine variety such as “Dancy,” “Orlando,” “Robinson,” “Nova” or “Osceola” to avoid introducing seeds into the “Clementine” or dramatically altering their taste.
Wait a year. Sometimes tangerine plants are alternate bearers, producing large crops one year and not producing the next. If your tree is an alternate bearer, there is little you can do except plant another tree to provide fruit in the off years. Plant one of the tangerine hybrids to ensure you do not negatively alter the “Clementine.”
Irrigate the tree with high quality, clean water, as water with a high salt content can damage leaves and decrease production.
Record how much water you provide the “Clementine.” If it fails to produce, give it less during the next growing season. Citrus trees often require a little stress to be goaded into fruiting and may not bloom if they are too comfortable.
The Gravenstein Apple Tree
Gravenstein Apple tree harvest time is eagerly anticipated by apple aficionados and culinary locavores. This heirloom variety is fun to grow and extremely prolific, but difficult to transport due to its short shelf life. Since it’s not a great keeping apple, you need to gobble them up or preserve them while they are in season.
Girl holding freshly picked Gravenstein Apples.
If you love great tasting apples, Gravenstein apples are an excellent choice. They are sweet and crunch with a hint of honey when you bite into their crisp flesh. You need to put one or two trees into your home orchard and grow yourself some of these golden gems. The yellow fruit with its mottled red stripes is striking against the dark green leaves. “Gravs”, to growers and apple enthusiasts, are widely adaptable to various climates, and they are super producer.
Tart and sweet, Gravs are perfect for fresh eating immediately after harvest. They have a firm texture making them excellent for baked goods, sauces, and dried fruit.
History of the Gravenstein Apple Tree
In the 17th century, a Dutch Count, Frederik the Younger, brought this apple variety home to Grasten Palace. The cultivar became known as the Gravenstein, the German variant of Grasten.
The Gravenstein apple came to North America in the 19th century. It is suspected Russian fur traders brought the fruit to Canada. Nova Scotia was known for its production of Gravenstein trees, and they still flourish there today. The apples are grown across the USA and Canada. This heirloom variety is grown widely in California, but the older orchards are giving way to increased grape production.
Gravenstein Fruit Tree Characteristics
The Gravenstein apples are perfect for the home orchardist because the apples ripen individually over the course of a few weeks. This makes harvesting easier for the home grower, but nearly impossible for the commercial grower who prefers to harvest the tree all at once. Additionally, the fruit has a short stem which mostly requires delicate hand-picking.
In spring the tree is awash in pretty pale pink buds that break into fragrant white blooms. The trees have been known to produce a second blush of blooms, which makes this pretty fruit tree an excellent edible ornamental option.
The blossom of a Gravenstein Apple tree.
It can take anywhere from two to five years for the tree to produce a harvestable size fruit production. The Gravenstein does have biennial fruit bearing tendencies which can be somewhat mitigated by planting a good pollination partner close by, within 50 feet.
As far as apple trees go, the Gravenstein is among the largest of standard apples. It supports a strong and wide branching structure and benefits from thoughtful pruning.
Grown virtually everywhere in North American and Europe, the Gravenstein Apple Tree’s USDA hardiness runs from zone 2 to zone 9 encompassing all the lower 48 states excluding only the lower tip of Florida. It requires only 700 chill hours, which is a low chill requirement, given it the widespread growing range.
Check out our piece on How To Plant Apple Trees. It will highlight all the important dos and don’ts of successfully growing your own apple trees.
Size and Spacing
The Gravenstein Apple Tree grows to a mature height of 15 to 18 feet and a mature width of 12 to 15 feet. The large deciduous tree lives a long and productive life. It is statuesque and will command a wide space.
Gravenstein Apple Tree.
Good for a large orchard with lots of space where it can stretch out, the Gravenstein Apple Tree can also be pruned successfully for use in a smaller garden or an edible ornamental plant. Just make sure to give this tree plenty of room, and it will reward you with bushels of tasty apples.
A triploid apple variety, the Gravenstein Apple Tree requires pollination from another apple trees. It blossoms early and requires another apple variety that flowers early in the season to get the best pollination possible. Frequently it produces a second flush of blooms, so planting an early/mid, pollinator friendly apple variety also will increase the yield exponentially.
The Gravenstein is not a good pollinator — do not rely on it to help around the orchard. It likes to look pretty but does not want to join the pollination party.
The Gravenstein needs a good pollination partner. We have listed several excellent options below. Click through the link on these apple varieties to learn all about their growing habitats, care, and apple recipes.
Good pollinators for the Gravenstein Apple include:
Like most apple trees, the Gravenstein Apple Tree requires basic care and will reward you will a bountiful harvest. Select the right spot in your garden for your tree, and you will be picking beautiful apples for years to come.
- The Gravenstein requires full sun. A solid six hours of sunlight, preferably morning sun, is necessary.
- This tree has a large spread, be sure to give it plenty of room and avoid having it shaded from other trees.
- It grows best in moderate, damp, loamy soil with minimal soil drying during the summer months.
- It will also tolerate short periods of dry conditions, but like all fruit trees, water is essential for producing beautiful, juicy fruit.
- Gravensteins will not thrive in areas of high groundwater and require moderate protection against wind.
- Pruning is important for healthy apple trees. It creates a sturdy scaffold to support heavy fruit bearing.
- Pruning is also important to promote sunlight and air circulation.
- See our Pruning Apple Trees: The Homeowners Complete Guide for all your apple tree pruning questions.
Diseases & Care
- The Gravenstein is resistant to Cedar Apple Rust making it a good candidate for growers who want to stay as organic as possible.
- It is susceptible to blight, apple scab, and powdery mildew, so you need to keep an eye out for signs of these diseases and pests.
Common Uses For The Gravenstein Apple
With its sweet and tart taste and crispy flesh, the Gravenstein apple is great for fresh eating off the tree. Due to the short shelf life, preserving this apple by making sauce or drying are two traditional ways of storing it through the winter. If your own tree isn’t producing fruit yet, seek out Gravs at the local farmers markets. When you find them, be sure to purchase enough to munch on and to cook with.
This simple and easy Gravenstein Applesauce from The Heritage Cook works up in a jiffy. It’s delightful as a side dish, a topping for ice cream, or simply eaten on its own. Sugar, water, and flavorful heirloom apples make an applesauce that will be your go-to autumn recipe. Add a dash of cinnamon, and you will have a fan favorite.
In the Alps, you will encounter an artisanal brandy called Ostler. Typically made by farmers from fruit must, a selection of assorted fruits are fermented and distilled to produce this wonderful fermented liquor.
Gravenstein apples make delicious dried fruit snacks. When your harvest is gluttonous, oven-drying these beauties will allow you to keep them ready for munching all year long. Here is a simple oven drying method to make crispy apple chips in just an hour. You can’t get any easier than that.
Gravensteins hold their shape when baked making them good candidates for your favorite baked apple recipe. We have a few favorites, try our Old Fashioned Apple Crisp recipe for a classic home style dish that is surely a crowd pleaser.
The Gravenstein apple is a perfect substitute for almost any apple recipe. Apple pies, apple cakes, and baked apples are delicious when made with Gravs.
Health Benefits of Eating Apples
A medium apple is a simple but perfect snack loaded with nutrients. A three-inch diameter apple will yield about one and a half cups of sweet, yummy fruit chunks or slices. We all need to eat more fruit and adding apples to your daily menu is simple. Grab one as your go-to, mid-day snack. They can be sweet and juicy or tart and crunchy, but anyway you slice them, the health benefits are clear, a diet high in fiber and low in calories is a perfect combination for a apple healthy snack.
Check out all the great and wonderfully healthy things adding apples to your diet will do for you! The 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Apples will get you started down a healthy path. When you grow your own apples, you know you have the freshest and most organic produce in your kitchen.
Where To Buy You Own Gravenstein Apple Tree
When purchasing fruit trees it is important to select a tree that has had a good start. When you start with a healthy sapling, you are already on the road to success. We recommend Nature Hills Nursery, our trusted source for excellent fruit trees. They offer the classic Heirloom Gravenstein Apple Tree for your home orchard planting, and you can rest assured your tree has been cared for properly.
While not the easiest apple tree to grow, and not a good choice for a beginner orchardist, the Gravenstein Apple tree is sought by apple growers because of its superior flavor and bountiful harvest.
Where To Buy Seasonal Gravenstein Apples
Gravenstein Apples are not a good shipping apple given their short, two-week shelf life. Additionally, they ripen sporadically making it difficult for large commercial farmers to harvest. Therefore, to enjoy these tasty little gems, you need to grow your own. Alternatively, you may find them at local farm stands and farmer’s markets in the fall. You need to snatch them up when you see them, they will be gone before you can say “American as Apple Pie!”
Wrapping up The Gravenstein Apple Tree
If you have a small established orchard, adding a Gravenstein Apple Tree is a great addition to your apple growing varieties. With its hard to find commercial nature, sweet and zesty flavor profile, and excellent baking ability, the Gravenstein Apple is a true gem.
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