In most parts of the country, apple season doesn’t happen until fall. But the Gravenstein Apple Fair, held every August in Sebastopol, offers more proof that Sonoma County is naturally inclined to be on the culinary cutting edge.
Gravenstein apples, known for their sweet-tart flavor and red-and-orange striping, are ready for harvest during July and August. Opinions vary on whether they were introduced to Sebastopol and this region by Spanish settlers or Russian fur traders, but either way the apples were flourishing here by the mid-1800s, helped along by the area’s sandy soil and cool summers. And they have a certain exclusivity: Their delicate peel makes them harder to ship, so they tend to be less common outside the region. In recent years, too, the growing cider trend has further boosted demand for them.
All of these factors make excellent excuses for a festival, which first started in the 1970s, and now happens at the oak-tree-shaded Ragle Ranch Park. There’s certainly a classic country fair appeal, with lots of apple pies, fritters, and applesauce on offer, as well as exotic delights like caramel apples with goat’s-milk cajeta. Pre-dessert options include fried chicken sandwiches and barbecued turkey legs, and the fair has a running soundtrack of live music. Kids activities typically include cow-milking, beekeeping, and sheep-shearing demos, along with the Agrarian Games, where you can take apple-juggling lessons or watch the Ugly Produce Beauty Contest.
Serious foodies will also find plenty to do, too, from sampling organic ciders to learning how to press juice. Visit the craft cider, local beer, and wine tents, or go to the Artisan Tasting Lounge for cider and cheese pairings, specialty cocktails, and bites from local restaurants. The DIY Arena, meanwhile, showcases cheesemakers as well as chefs leading apple-inspired demos. On your way out, pick up a bag of Gravenstein apples, along with other local farm goodies such as artisan olive oils, jams, honeys, and sauces.