When it comes to apples in the South, a visit to Hendersonville, North Carolina, is in order. The small city near Asheville ranks as the seventh-largest producer of apples in America. Who knew? Apparently, William Mills, one of the original settlers to the area, planted hundreds of apple trees around 1800. The fertile fields helped nurture the crops, and for decades growers sold their apples to wholesale buyers who made the fruit into applesauce, apple juice and other products. But, some of the buyers moved on, and today, many of the farmers sell their produce directly to consumers. And invite them to their farms.
I was asked to participate in an agritourism tour in Hendersonville, and being fond of apples, accepted.
Now, what exactly is agritourism? By definition: any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm, ranch or other business. You’d expect to visit apple orchards, and you’d be right. Families, often multi-generations, come together for autumn outings to the farms. They enjoy picking apples off the tree or choosing among the numerous varieties on sale. The farms also sell produce and small-batch products like apple butter, apple salsa, applesauce, and yummy bakery items such as fried apple hand pies and apple cider donuts.
The first stop was at Grandad’s Apples, beyond picking apples, visitors can get lost in the cornfield maze or jump around haystacks. The most fun, however, seemed to be shooting an apple cannon. Load an apple and fire at a target. The fruit explodes when it hits, bringing lots of laughs. Those hard to please teenagers love this activity.
Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard offers three apple cannons (the appeal crosses all ages), tractor rides, and pick your own sunflowers as well as apples. Don’t miss their delicious apple slushy.
Lyda Farms is yet another family-friendly place. Folks come to shop for farm fresh apples and a vast selection of vegetables, including heirloom veggies. Visitors don’t pick their own here, except amongst the array offered in baskets. Juicy, the Giant Apple Bug is a favorite for kids.
Orchards aren’t the only places on an agritourism tour. Henderson County was recently named an official American Viticultural Area, and its three vineyards are producing surprisingly good wines. Burntshirt Vineyards runs an estate winery, meaning all the grapes used in their wines grow on site. Taste a dry or sweet wine flight or take a complimentary vineyard tour.
Drive up to Point Lookout Vineyards and bask in a gorgeous mountain panorama seen from 2,900 feet. Their slogan: 30 mile views, even longer memories, seems to capture the essence of the place. Point Lookout Vineyards produce more than the typical red and whites, some of their varietals include plum, vanilla, blackberry, citrus or espresso. Had I room in my suitcase, I would have purchased the unexpectedly delicious coffee and chocolate blend, Javine Mocha Red Wine.
In addition to some fine wine, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards is growing apple trees from Normandy, France. The owner wants to create a hard cider that tastes much like champagne. I had a sample that was utterly surprising and oh, so delicious.
Hard ciders have become very popular lately, and Hendersonville’s Bold Rock Cidery offers some of the finest. An incredible 70 tons of apples go through Bold Rock every week, all converted to hard cider and seltzer. Sit back, taste a cider flight, and learn about the apples that created them.
I wasn’t in town for the annual North Carolina Apples Festival. Still, it’s a yearly (multi-day) event around Labor Day that attracts over a quarter of a million people and sounds like fun.
Hendersonville is not all farms. The lively downtown shops are pedestrian-friendly and many excellent restaurants feature local farm produce. I especially enjoyed one called Shine, where from the rooftop, you can look down on Main Street while enjoying a dinner or a drink.
Don’t miss the McFarlan Bakery, also on Main Street. The bakers have been turning out decadent goodies since they opened in 1930. A few gift shops devote space to locally made arts and crafts. I was especially impressed with Woodlands Gallery.
Naturally, I came home with a lot of apples, carefully carrying them in my carry-on for my flight. What did I do with those apples? I made a small cobbler and stored the rest in my refrigerator. I was told that apples wrapped in a plastic bag can be successfully stored for months. It’s true! Many weeks later, I baked an apple raspberry pie that turned out to be a winner. I’m sharing the recipe at the end of this post.
I was truly surprised and delighted by the abundance of unusual attractions and all great food and wine in Hendersonville. I heartily recommend a visit to the area.
If you go: VisitHendersonvilleNC.org.
Apple Raspberry Pie
This recipe comes from a blog by Sommer Collier, at A Spicy Perspective.
I made a few minor adjustments.
- Homemade pie crust or two 9-inch rollout pie crusts
- 3 1/2 pounds firm apples I used Honey Crisps
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 12 ounces or two 6-ounce packages fresh raspberries
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup raspberry or other berry preserves
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 450 degree F and place the rack in the lowest position. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with pie crust dough.
- Place the lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel and thinly slice all the apples (1/8- to 1/4-inch thick) tossing in the lemon juice as you add them to the bowl.
- Add the raspberries, granulated sugar, berry preserves, corn starch, spices, and salt to the apples. Gently toss the mixture by hand to coat. Scoop the raspberry apple filling into the pie crust. Shake a little so the filling settles into place.
- Roll out the second pie crust and cut into strips to make a lattice crust. Intertwine the strips across the top of the pie. Then whisk the egg and water to create an eggwash. Brush the eggwash over the top of the pie crust, then sprinkle the top of the crust with coarse Demerara or brown sugar.
- Place the pie in the oven, and LOWER THE TEMPERATURE TO 375 DEGREES F. The extra heat from the beginning gives the crust a little head start in baking. Bake the pie for 70-80 minutes, until golden and bubbly. If the crust starts to get dark, loosely cover with foil while baking. *Make sure you see the juices bubbling – otherwise the filling will be runny.
- This is the hard part… DO NOT cut the pie until it has cooled down to room temperature. I know it smells amazing and is very hard to resist, but the filling needs time to settle and set, so it’s not soupy. If you cut your pie too soon, it will fall apart. I suggest making the pie in evening before you need it and let it rest overnight.