Tempted by Apples?

A bounty of North Carolina apples straight from the orchard tempts visitors to the roadside market at Lyda Farms in Hendersonville, located in the largest apple-producing county in North Carolina.

Don’t be deceived by the glossy piles of fruit available year-round in the grocery store. Apple season doesn’t officially begin in North Carolina until mid-August. And if you’re willing to invest a few hours of driving and picking, the state’s best apples can be yours.

Most North Carolina apples are grown in Henderson County, about a four-hour drive west of Cary, and the orchards there are open and welcoming visitors.

“The apple orchards just kind of figured it out,” said Beth Carden, executive director of Henderson County’s Tourism Development Authority. “They’ve got a lot of space around them, at the farm markets, and they’re able to spread people out.”

Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard’s scenic 100-acre working farm and apple orchard sits on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville.

Henderson County accounts for more than 85% of the apple harvest in North Carolina, the seventh-largest apple-growing state in the U.S. For decades, growers sold their product to make applesauce, juice and other processed products; but recently, agritourism is a much bigger slice of the county’s economic pie.

For nearly 75 years, Hendersonville has hosted the N.C. Apple Festival over the Labor Day weekend. This year’s event will be scaled back, without the street fair and the King Apple Parade, but organizers are still planning fun activities to promote the local apple industry.

With 21 apple varieties to choose from at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard, baskets and wagons help with the haul.

“It’s a lot easier to cancel something, but when you do that, it takes a huge economic knock,” said Carden. “Why do that when you can, with a little extra effort, reformat things?”

Instead of lining the downtown streets Sept. 4-7, vendors will be on-site at 15 or so participating orchards. Carden encourages visitors to follow the Crest of the Blue Ridge Apple Trail, stopping along the way for pick-your-own-apples, apple doughnuts, tractor rides, corn mazes and other activities.

Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard

Danielle Stepp McCall is a third-generation member of the Stepp family, which has owned the 100-acre farm since the 1960s. The Stepps have been inviting visitors to come pick apples for nearly all of that time.

Group visits are welcomed at Stepp’s, which offers guided tours and farm wagon rides though acres of orchards, a pumpkin patch and grapevines.

“We have loved having people come to our farm for over 50 years. We love growing the apples, but we love having people come out, too,” McCall said. “Especially people who are more used to being in an urban environment, it’s great to see how much they enjoy coming out and being on a farm. That’s a blessing for us to see.”

There are 21 apple varieties grown at the farm, from Arkansas Black to York. The season begins with Ginger Gold, Gala and Honeycrisp, which are ready toward the middle of August.

Debi Lander of Sarasota, Florida takes her pick in the orchard.

Much at the farm will remain the same this fall, McCall says, because most activities are outside. Visitors will still be able to pick apples and grapes, cut sunflowers, navigate the corn maze or snack on fresh doughnuts. Kids of all ages will also be able to fire the apple cannon.

“We hope it will be a refreshing break for folks who have either been stuck inside or just felt cooped up. We hope that they’ll come out and be able to really enjoy the wide open space that we have,” she said.

Children pose for photographs near a covered picnic area by the orchard. Despite the coronavirus, much of the farm will remain the same this fall.

170 Stepp Orchard Drive, Hendersonville

Mountain Fresh Orchards

While visitors can certainly buy apples at Mountain Fresh Orchards, the real draw is the baked goods, says Daphne Carland, whose parents own the 12-acre farm. Fried apple pies, apple fritters, apple turnovers and apple caramel cake are among more than 18 products made fresh and sold at the roadside stand.

“We’re a small farm compared to a lot of other farms, but we sell everything there at our roadside market,” Carland said. “It’s fresh; you can’t be any fresher than what we have.”

Apple cider donuts

Considering the number of visitors to the farm during the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays, Carland anticipates that Labor Day weekend will be a busy couple of days, even though the Apple Festival won’t be in downtown Hendersonville.

“We think it’s great that the festival is going to be sending people to our orchards, because maybe they’ll come more than just during Apple Festival,” she said. “Maybe they would come maybe one or two or three other times during the season and buy apples, instead of just coming in that one weekend.”

Historic downtown Hendersonville is a pedestrian-friendly destination that features shops, museums and locally-owned restaurants.

The North Carolina apple season lasts through late October, ending with the ripening of the Pink Ladies and the Granny Smiths. Plenty of time to venture west for the freshest possible fruit and an apple cider doughnut or two.

2887 Chimney Rock Road, Hendersonville

Dutch Apple Pie

Pastry for single-crust pie
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (about 2¼ pounds)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

  1. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pastry, and crimp the edges. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the streusel topping. Stir flour, brown sugar and salt together. With a fork or pastry blender, cut in the 4 tablespoons butter. Stir in the chopped pecans, if using.
  3. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, place a baking sheet on it and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  4. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add sliced apples, and toss gently to coat.
  5. Transfer fruit into the prepared crust. Sprinkle streusel topping over the apples.
  6. To prevent over-browning, cover the edge of the pie with foil. Bake for 40 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes until fruit is tender and filling is bubbly. Cool on a wire rack for at least three hours before slicing.

Fresh Apple Snack Cake

From A Day in the Country and Cafe on the Veranda

This is a moist cake, and it stores and freezes well. It can be eaten as is or dusted lightly with powdered sugar after it cools.

4 cups peeled and diced apples
1 cup sugar
1 6-ounce package Raven’s Nest Mulling Spice*
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup of Burntshirt Vineyards Apple Wine**
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shredded coconut
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.
  2. Peel and dice apples. Combine sugar and mulling spices, and stir into diced apples. Let apple mixture stand at least 30 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, sift flour, soda and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, oil, apple wine and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients. Fold in apples, orange zest, coconut and nuts.
  5. Pour into prepared pan, and bake for 40 minutes, turning the cake in the oven after 20 minutes.

*The mulling spice mix can be ordered at ravensoriginal.com. Or, the spice mix can be replaced with 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon dried lemon zest, 1 teaspoon dried orange zest and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves.

**The apple wine can be replaced with a dry hard cider or apple juice.

Cranberry Apple Pecan Slaw

From the Hendersonville Community Co-op Deli, chef Matthew Grove
Yield: 8-10 servings

1 tablespoon red onion, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons poppy seeds

  1. Stir the minced onion into the cider vinegar, and let stand for at least 5 minutes. Stir in honey or agave into vinegar and onion mixture, until completely dissolved.
  2. Combine with all other dressing ingredients, and refrigerate while you assemble the rest of the salad.

For the slaw:
1¼ -1 ½ pounds green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, shredded
2-3 apples, cut into matchsticks
Lemon juice (optional)
¾ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
¼ bunch green onions
¼ bunch cilantro, finely chopped
½ cup dried, sweetened cranberries
Salt and pepper

  1. Core and slice the cabbage very thin. Peel and shred the carrot.
  2. Choose your favorite type of apple, and slice into thin sticks. Toss the apples in a small amount of lemon juice, if desired, to prevent browning.
  3. Toast the pecans in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes, or until the pecans slightly darken in color and give off a nutty aroma. Allow nuts to cool, and chop roughly.
  4. Thinly slice the green onions, and chop the cilantro.
  5. In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrot, apple, pecans, onions, cilantro and dried cranberries. Gently fold in the dressing, until it is fully incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Allow slaw to chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight, before serving.
Henderson County Highlights

McFarlan Bakery

This old-fashioned bakery opened in 1930, and still uses the same recipes for its cakes, pies and pastries. Along with decorated cakes and other goodies, look for seasonal treats like apple cider doughnuts, apple turnovers and apple strudel. mcfarlanbakery.com

Burntshirt Vineyards

Burntshirt Vineyards was named N.C. Winery of the Year in 2015, at the N.Y. International Wine Competition. The winery offers tastings and tours of the facility, although tours are limited to fewer than 10 people. Visitors can enjoy a glass of wine on the veranda overlooking 30 acres of vineyards. burntshirtvineyards.com

Point Lookout Vineyards
This winery, perched at the top of Point Lookout Mountain, offers breathtaking views of the N.C. mountains and a variety of award-winning wines and meads. pointlookoutvineyards.com

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet wrote a third of his life’s work at Connemara, his Flat Rock estate that is now part of the National Park Service. While the grounds of the estate are open, the house, barn and other structures remain closed. nps.gov/carl

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