Apple traditions old and new

Above: photo by Joye Ardyn Durham

by Diane Mooney

Ever since the Scotch-Irish immigrants drove their wagons into western North Carolina, toting their apple seeds and saplings, apples have been woven into the fabric of mountain life. Early settlers ate apples. Their livestock ate apples. They drank cider when good water couldn’t be found and used cider vinegar to preserve food so they could survive the lean winters. Cellared apples provided a taste of freshness in the dark winter months and a promise of spring and apple blossoms.

…while we may no longer choose from hundreds of varieties, small growers preserve heirloom varieties like Arkansas Black, Ginger Gold, Cortland, Hoover and Jonathan.

While apples don’t loom as large in our lives today, they still play a significant role in North Carolina. Our state ranks seventh nationally in apple production with more than two hundred commercial apple operations. While hundreds of varieties once grew all over the mountains, today’s commercial growers focus mainly on Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome and Stayman apples. Sixty percent of these commercially grown apples are sold for juice and applesauce. Others go to supermarkets. And while we may no longer choose from hundreds of varieties, small growers preserve heirloom varieties like Arkansas Black, Ginger Gold, Cortland, Hoover and Jonathan. These fresh-grown apples are abundant at farmers’ markets as well as at roadside stands during the peak apple season of mid-August to October.

Apple traditions old and new
Photo by Halima Flynt from Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders

One of the most famous local vendors is Barber Orchard Fruit Stand in Waynesville, a North Carolina institution since 1932, now owned by Benny Arrington. The fruit stand, open August to Christmas Eve, sells apples along with cider and baked goods. “Apples are a natural crop in the mountain climate,” Arrington says. “The warm days and cool nights give apples an excellent flavor.” He has the distinction of being the only commercial apple grower left in Haywood County. But he’s an apple man through and through. He’s the fourth generation of his family in the apple business. His son Steve is the fifth and Arrington is hoping for a sixth generation to continue the tradition of apple growing.

Another tradition Arrington participates in is the Apple Harvest Festival in downtown Waynesville, celebrated this year on October 15. Now in its 28th year, this event has grown into the region’s premier celebration of all things apple. Apple deliciousness abounds in apple spice kettle corn, apple butter, apple bread and of course, plenteous pecks of apples to bring home. More than 150 booths of unique arts and crafts made in the US offer everything from pottery to jewelry, wood furniture, handcrafted soaps and knitted apple beanies for newborns.

A new tradition taking hold in Asheville is CiderFest NC, now in its third year. This festival, also on October 15, showcases more than 20 hard cider makers from across western North Carolina as well as special guest cideries from out of state. Unplugged local bands and buskers from the Asheville area will serenade festivalgoers as they enjoy a sample of cider or an apple-focused small plate at the chef’s station. For those who want to try their hand at brewing cider, a home cider-making booth, sponsored by Asheville Brewers Supply, will offer cider-making kits and demonstrations.

Appalachian Apple Heritage
Photo by Joye Ardyn Durham

One of the featured cideries at Ciderfest NC, Urban Orchard Cider Company, brings creativity to cider conventions. “Our cider is rooted in tradition,” says Jeff Anderson, marketing and creative director for Urban Orchard, “but we bring a new twist by experimenting with different yeasts, infusions and pairings.” These aren’t your grandpa’s ciders. Sidra Del Diablo is a cider infused with habanero and vanilla for a spicy bite. Sunglasses at Night channels summer with a blend of strawberries and fresh basil. Tainted Love is a semi-sweet raspberry brew. Located in West Asheville across the river from the River Arts District, Urban Orchard ciders are crafted from Hendersonville apples and brewed in their cidery, located beneath the cider bar.

Apple abundance

Barber Orchard Fruit Stand
2855 Old Balsam Rd, Waynesville, NC
Daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

Urban Orchard Cider Company
210 Haywood Road, Asheville

Apple Harvest Festival
Downtown Waynesville, NC
October 15, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

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