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Beyond the Pie

Exploring the savory side of Gravensteins

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APPLE JACKS  Sonoma County chefs will offer creative takes on apples at this year’s Gravenstein Apple Fair.
  • APPLE JACKS Sonoma County chefs will offer creative takes on apples at this year’s Gravenstein Apple Fair.

Gravensteins are hanging heavy in local orchards and appearing in stores as one of the first apples of the season. My favorite way to eat apples is right out of my hand.

There are apple pies and apple tarts, of course—nothing wrong with those desserts, but it's kind of been done. There's applesauce, but it's hard to get very excited about that. What about something less sweet?

I'm taking inspiration from the chefs who will be preparing apple dishes at Sebastopol's 44th annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, Aug. 12–13. Most of them will be showcasing the savory side of the sweet-tart apples.

"If I have one bite of an apple pie, I'm good for a year," says prolific cookbook author and Sebastopol resident Michele Anna Jordan. "I have much more of a savory palate."

Rather than give Gravensteins the starring role, Jordan says the apples are often best as a counterpoint to other ingredients like pork or chicken. For the Gravenstein Apple Fair, she's making a spicy chowder with Gravensteins and radish on top. The soup is layered with smoky flavors from chipotles and smoked ham hocks, goat cheddar cheese and onion. The addition of the Gravenstein apple-radish and a little crème fraîche and Dijon mustard serve to highlight the bigger flavors of the chowder and give it "context," Jordan says.

Rob Hogencamp, owner of Three Leaves Heritage Foods, a prepared-food business in Santa Rosa, used to be the executive chef for Sebastopol's Ceres Project, a nonprofit that provides meals for people with serious illness. As such, he's a fan of the healthful qualities of fermented foods. He loves kimchi but realizes the fermented cabbage and garlic-chile paste dish can be too much for some people. To make it more enticing, he's adding Gravenstein apples and celery to give the dish a sweeter, crunchier bite while still letting the fermented funk shine through.

"I like a mix of sweet and sour," says Hogencamp.

Perry Hoffman, executive chef of Healdsburg's Shed, spent summers at his family's Apple Farm in Philo and ate more than his share of apples.

"I ate a lot of underripe apples and made myself sick on the ride back home," he jokes. Now he uses slightly underripe apples as his "secret weapon of acidity."

For the apple fair, Hoffman is making trout tartare with Gravenstein apple salsa and farro verde. The bright, tart flavors of the apples take the place of tomatoes and are a great foil for the rich, oily flavor and texture of the trout, he says.

"The apples are absolutely wonderful with any kind of fish dish," he says.

Fellow Healdsburg restaurateur Mateo Granados is pairing Gravenstein and shishito peppers in a salad alongside petrale sole. Natalie Goble of Sebastopol's Handline will serve an apple-fennel soup with walnut crumb and wild fennel pollen.

Of course, after all those savory dishes something sweet is on order. Backyard restaurant's Mariana Gardenhire will be serving loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) with Gravs and wild honey.

In addition to the chefs' offerings and great cider on tap (see Swirl, p12), the fair is getting all fancy this year with an "artisan tasting lounge." An extra $20 gets you VIP access to a range of local food and drink, including produce, cheese, breads, wine and more. The theme of the lounge is "In Praise of Pollinators," so look for honey to play a supporting role alongside all those Gravenstein apples.

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