Gravenstein Apples – Sonoma’s Other World-Famous Crop

Golden State Cider founder Stan DeVoto picks apples in Sonoma County.

In the rich farmland of lush Sonoma County, the apple variety of choice is often the humble Gravenstein. Ripening in late July, Gravs—as they are affectionately known —are one of North America’s earliest apples on the market, and often signal the beginning of each year’s harvest season.

Gravs are delicious and versatile. Depending on the degree of ripeness, they can be perfect for munching or making into apple sauce, apple pies, and other baked goodies.

Two hands hold an apple in Sonoma County
Golden State Cider uses Gravenstein apples in their cider

People have long believed that the Gravenstein was brought to Sonoma County sometime around 1812 by Russian fur trappers at Fort Ross. However, recent evidence indicates that Gravs might have arrived even earlier, brought north from New Spain by the Spaniards.

Gravs are prolific producers, and were planted widely in Sonoma County in the mid-1800s. They grew most easily and best in the cool summers and sandy soil around Sebastopol. Eventually they were shipped nationwide by the trainload and played a major role in Sonoma County’s commerce. In more recent years, Gravenstein production declined significantly due to suburban development, orchard/vineyard conversion, a global over-abundance of apples, and other factors. 

Today, Gravensteins are rebounding in popularity among consumers who are looking for more-tasty, more-local varieties of produce. However, because of their soft skin Gravs are now considered difficult to ship far and wide as raw fruit. So the best place to get Sonoma County Gravensteins is in Sonoma County.

A sign welcomes visitors to Mom's Apple Pie in Sonoma County
Mom’s Apple Pie

Experience the essence of summer by biting into a fresh Sebastopol Gravenstein at a farmers market, or by digging into a slice of Mom’s Apple Pie with a healthy dollop of ice cream on top.

Gravs are typically available in late July to mid-August at Sonoma County’s farm and farmers markets, roadside produce stands, and grocery stores that feature local produce. This luscious fruit is also available at the Gravenstein Apple Fair, held in Sebastopol each August.

2023 Gravenstein Apple Fair Sonoma County

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this year’s Gravenstein Apple Fair (presented by Sonoma County Farm Trails), is scheduled for August 12-13, 2023, featuring live music, arts and crafts vendors, and of course, Gravenstein apples â€“ think pies, juice, fritters, ciders, you name it! This year’s event will also feature a VIP Lounge. 

The festival has also implemented several new eco-friendly practices. For instance, all food waste will be given to local pig farmers to feed their pigs; re-usable metal silverware and real glasses will be used for food and beverages, and washed after the event; and all food will be served in compostable containers with easy-to-find labeled compost bins distributed throughout the event. Last year, the Gravenstein Apple Fair earned the first-ever Green Resolution for events by Sonoma County Zero Waste, certifying the Apple Fair is 95% zero waste! 

A display of apples at the Gravenstein Apple Festival forms a big apple in Sonoma County
Gravenstein Apple Festival

What to do with the Gravs once you have them? Well, here’s a simple recipe for a great cobbler. Enjoy!

Gravenstein Apple Cobbler by Tammy Rossitto 
(Sonoma County Tourism Recipe Contest Winner)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • 1 box pound cake mix (do not use a moist cake mix, it won’t work)
  • 1 cube unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 8 Sonoma County Gravenstein apples, cored, pared and sliced as for apple pie
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tblsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 c. sugar

1. Combine cake mix, 1 tsp cinnamon, pecans and butter; use either finger tips or a fork to mix until blended and crumbly.
2. Combine cornstarch, remaining 1 tsp cinnamon, cloves, salt and 1/2 cup sugar.
3. Toss cornstarch mixture with sliced apples until apples are well coated. Let stand for 5 minutes.
4. Butter a 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish.
5. Place apple mixture into glass baking dish.
6. Sprinkle cake mixture over apples. It will appear lumpy.
7. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake topping is golden brown
and apples are bubbling and tender.
8. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Refrigerate leftovers.
Serves 9 – 12 

The annual Gravenstein Apple Fair is held in Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol each August. Check our Calendar of Events for current dates.

Find more info about Things to Do, Hotels & Lodging and Farms & Farmers Markets in Sonoma County.

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