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Saving the Gravenstein
To the people who know them, Gravenstein apples are pie apples. One of the first varieties to appear in the markets in late summer, they have a bright acidity and a gorgeous aroma that survives even after the apples have been baked or simmered for hours.
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There are 900 acres of Gravensteins left in Sonoma County, writes Paula Shatkin, who is coordinating the Sebastopol Gravenstein presidium through Slow Food's Russian River chapter. This year, the group is launching a Gravenstein promotion to pay local farmers enough for the apples so they can afford to keep their trees.
Gravensteins face two challenges. The first is commercial viability. "Gravensteins have short stems," Shatkin wrote via e-mail, "so the majority fall to the ground and are used for applesauce, vinegar, and juice."
The second challenge, not surprisingly, is that in Sonoma County apple trees aren't as profitable as grapevines. "We took this project on about seven years ago when there was a frantic pace of vineyard conversions going on up here," Shatkin wrote. "You could see apple orchards being attacked with chainsaws on every country road."
The Fruit Guys, a San Francisco company that provides fresh, local fruit for office snack rooms, is working with Slow Food Russian River this year to bring Gravensteins to the public. The cost for a 5-pound box is $20, and the proceeds will go to the 20 participating farmers — Shatkin emphasized that this is not a fundraiser for Slow Food. If you have the apples delivered to your workplace, the Fruit Guys will ship the box for free (great advertising for its services), but to ship the apples to your residence costs only $2 extra. Order a box by calling (877) FRUIT-ME (877-378-4863) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The fruit will be delivered either on Wednesday, Aug. 18, or Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Five pounds of apples make a couple of pies (when we lived in Seattle, where Gravensteins are just as good and just as scarce, we learned that if you add a few Granny Smiths, you can stretch your supply further without sacrificing much of the flavor). If you're too lazy to bake your own, or want to pick up apples in the heart of Gravenstein country, the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair is taking place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 14-15, with fritters, caramel apples, cakes, turnovers, cobblers, and pies for sale.
Eat This: Wayfare Taverns Hangtown Fry
Maybe it's because Tyler Florence is accustomed to playing to a national audience on the Food Network that the seven-week-old Wayfare Tavern feels so regionally nonspecific. The Federalist-inn-meets-tallyho-pub aesthetic would play equally well in Boston, Chicago, or Dallas: stags'-head trophies, portraits of anonymous bearded Victorians, and on the soundtrack, Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. It's all a bit like the suiting department at Nordstrom, only — at lunch recently — none of the guys were wearing suits, merely the dress-shirt-over-golf-tan uniform of the FiDi.
But you have to hand it to Florence. For all the wood-panel generics, the Mill Valley resident has steeped his Americana menu in locavore specifics: Monterey Bay sardines, Sonoma foie gras, even a dish native to these parts, the Hangtown Fry ($18). At the Tadich Grill, the oyster-and-bacon-studded omelet is leather-edged and scrappy. Here, the cooks turn out something thick and fluffy, a scrambled-egg cake embedded with crumbed and fried Pacific oysters, crowned with bacon and a giant watercress plouf. No finesse, only big-fisted proteins. It'd look great on TV. Ain't that America?
Wayfare Tavern: 558 Sacramento (at Leidesdorff), 772-9060.