Ode to the Gravenstein, — and other Fairs

by Laura on August 22, 2010

in Traditions

Mid August brings about a cherished family tradition that we’ve all come to look forward to — the Gravenstein Apple Fair. When I first reminded the family that the Fair was fast approaching, the kids squealed with joy. They began talking about finding the balloon lady, eating Blue Goo ice cream, dancing to the music, running in the hay maze, and laughing about how Grayson swallowed his first tooth while enjoying an apple fritter last year.

This was our fair, the one we look forward to every year – but is not unlike the countless other fairs that are held around the country in late August. Whether it is a County Fair, Corn Festival, Street Fair, Food Fairs – getting out and about into the community, and enjoying the foods that make up a community is what traditions are all about.

Fairs are descended from an age-old tradition when tribes gathered to exchange goods, information and to make social contacts.  Today fairs are a place of celebration, a cherished summertime ritual. They evoke simpler times, when farmers gathered to compete in categories, share stories and enjoy a break from the year’s hard work. Fairs continue to be a wonderful celebration of the people and the foods that make up a community, They’re filled with music, animals, arts and crafts, and food — funnel cakes, corn on the cob, hot dogs on a stick – all the while showcasing of all the talents of the community. The farmers and children from Four-H proudly showcase their animals; there are exhibits of farm equipment through the ages; stall after stall of arts and crafts ranging from homemade dolls to pottery and jewelry. And then there is the baking contest. That’s the part that makes me smile. This is where all the hard-working home cooks highlight their best – from jams and jellies, to honey, biscuits cookies and candies.

To me, this is the essence of the community – its food.

As for our fair, we celebrated the sweet and tart flavors of the Gravenstein Apple.

The Slow Food USA site describes this Sonoma County favorite:

The Gravenstein, which was first planted in Sonoma County in 1811 by Russian trappers, ripens in late July—making it one of the first apples in North America ready for market.  It is a squat, irregularly shaped apple with a very short stem that comes in a variety of colors; it usually has a greenish yellow background covered with broad red stripes.  The Gravenstein is known for its all-purpose versatility as a terrific eating, sauce and pie apple.  The apple has a crisp and juicy texture and a flavor that is aromatic and full of old-fashioned, sweet and tart flavor.

At our little fair, fair-goers were treated to fritters and pies, and were able to test their competitive skills eating a freshly made Gravenstein Apple pie with no hands, work their through a delicious caramel apple, gulp a jar of apple sauce or show off their apple juggling skills. As our kids scattered about the children’s section painting their own faces, gathering herbs to create herbal teas, decorating bags and blowing bubbles, Grayson cored an apple, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and wrapped it in dough. When finished, he proudly held it before him and exclaimed, “Look what I made! Can we bake it at home?”

Home, is exactly where we were heading, after several hours enjoying the fair.

We grabbed our bag of apples, and the kids immediately swarmed around us asking, “Can I have an apple?” As they crunched their apples on the way home, we talked about the tart flavor, comparing it to the flavor of the Pink Lady orGala apples the kids were recently enjoying at home. We talked about all we could use the apples for – pie, fritters, and “smoothies” (suggested Nicole).

Immediately upon walking in our front door, Grayson was insistent that I place his mini apple creation in the oven so it would be baked and ready for dessert.

After dinner, I pulled Grayson’s creation from the oven, and we all gathered around so that he could spoon feed us bites of the dessert he was so proud of making. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day at the fair. We can’t wait until next year!

  • The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Ark of Taste has the selected the (Sebastopol) Gravenstein apple to be listed in its catalog of “forgotten flavors”. Some of the criteria for selection are “it must be of outstanding quality in terms of taste” and “be threatened with either real or potential extinction.)
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