Monday, September 21, 2015

Meatless Monday: A Sweet Bite from the Ark of Taste

Now that Fall is suddenly in the air family outings switch from the beach to “Pick-Your-Own” venues.  Here in New England the peach season is pretty much over, but raspberries are still plentiful and apple season is beginning. Many of the venues, including my favorite Bishop’s Orchards, have “orchard” in the name and offer other attractions like corn mazes, petting zoos, and pie. It is easy to find a Pick Your Own venue near you by visiting the Pick Your Own website, where you can find local listings for Pick Your Own (PYO) farms in the US, Canada, Britain and various other locations around the world. 

On a trip to the West last month I had the opportunity to visit a PYO farm, not the “orchard” with which I am most familiar, but rather a “ranch” in Santa Cruz county near Salinas, on the way from Silicon Valley to Monterey. Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, CA is a family operation, established in 1937. To reach it you turn off Hwy 101 and travel along dusty roads running through commercial berry operations with names I recognized from my supermarket produce aisles back home. 

Gizdich Ranch grows a variety of berries: Olallieberries (June), Boysenberries and Blackberries (Mid June to July), and Strawberries (May-September). Apples: September (3 weeks).They grow 16 varieties of apples but only Red Delicious, Newton Pippins & Golden Delicious are U-pick for 3 weeks in September.

That hot Sunday in late August we were not, however, looking to pick produce. We were in search of the Gizdich’s famous pies. We ended up buying two – one  Very Berry and one Apricot, and sampling a couple of pieces a la mode while we were there. The pie was great, but I was even happier to discover that Gravenstein apples were available in the farm store. I bought a few to enjoy on our family trip. Small in size, they proved to be crisp and both tart and sweet in one bite. Gravensteins ripen in late July, making them one of the earliest varieties of apple to come to market in North America. They are a wonderful all-around apple — excellent to eat and great for pie and sauce.

Gravensteins are an heirloom variety, once a very important part of the economy of the CA coast from Monterey to the Russian River. With 17th century origins in Denmark, they were first planted in Sonoma County in the early 1800s by Russian trappers. There were thousands of Gravenstein orchards in the state by the early 1900s, and the Gravenstein processing industry was born. During WWII applesauce and dried apples from Sebastopol Gravensteins fed the American troops. 

However, Gravensteins have short stems making them difficult to harvest, and they do not store well. Thus many of today's growers have opted to replace them with other varieties.

The wine industry has posed another threat to apples in general. In 2005 low Food USA added the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple to its Ark of Taste catalog of “delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction” stating, “This fruit is also losing out because of an alarming loss of land, as many orchards are being converted to vineyards or rural estates. During the past six decades, Sonoma County’s Gravenstein orchards have declined by almost 7,000 acres and are currently down to 960 acres. There are only six commercial growers remaining in Sonoma County. Together, their crop totals 15,000 tons of Gravenstein Apples a year.” 

The Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium formed to promote and protect the farmers who grow these delicious apples. You can read more about it here

Long story short, as far as I know, there are no Gravenstein orchards near me, and I was happy to have the chance to sample an Ark of Taste item and to support an Ark of Taste farmer. For more on the Gravenstein apple, read this NPR blog by Nicole Spiridakis from 2013 (apple recipes included) For other endangered foods from around the world, check out the Ark of Taste catalog. 

Happy Meatless Monday. Have a great week.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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