This was it! The week when the leaves were at, or nearing, peak color and the weather was perfect: warm sunshine and cold nights. James and I had plans to take advantage of this lovely confluence of events and take a full day off from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in order to climb Grandfather Mountain. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and and men (and what is with that and the mice)? They often go awry. Two days before our hike James came down with a terrible cold. Under the best of circumstances it’s not great to be sick but in October,our busiest season, it’s really hard. So a strenuous hike was out. But we still had the day off and the weather was still beautiful so we opted for a much more laid back excursion which would get us out of the house and back in time for a nap: apple picking at an orchard near Asheville, NC.
North Carolina is part of the largest apple growing region in the USA, ranging from Lake Michigan to the East Coast. In actual fact, apples are indigenous to the region and have been cultivated here since before the Europeans arrived. Of course, when they did arrive, they brought their own varieties of apples along with them. According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture experts estimate that between 5,000-20,000 varieties of apples have been grown in this area at some time. On our hikes in the region James and I have occasionally come across apple trees growing wild where orchards once existed. North Carolina is the seventh largest apple producing state in the union and nearby Hendersonville Country produces almost 65% of those apples.
Apples! Wonderful, fresh, crisp apples are among the lost treats of the past. They snap when you bite into them with clean, white flesh, dripping with juice and special sweetness. I grew up near an apple orchard. My mother bought early bushels of MacIntosh Apples and stored them in the garage where the smell permeated the air. She processed them into apple sauce which we ate all
winter long out of the freezer. Her apple pies were legend. Coming home from school in September we would snag an apple off the pile and enjoy the lovely, short-lived, crispness of a just picked apple. To this day, I love the scent of apples! Apples available in supermarkets today are a pale and sad example of this wonderful fruit. Think about it, there were between five to twenty THOUSAND varieties of apples once. How many can you name? How many does your market sell? You have not really experienced an apple until you have gotten one picked ripe from an orchard and brought to your table within a few days instead of weeks.
There are a large number of pick-your-own farms near Asheville. James and I decided to go to Sky Top Orchard based on the recommendation of a friend. It is a short drive from here, in Flat Rock. We stopped in Hendersonville for lunch first, sitting outside at Never Blue Tapas Restaurant where we watched people walk by and enjoyed the experience of being an October Tourist. From there is was a short drive to Pinnacle Mountain Road and the climb to Sky Top. The road opens out with beautiful vistas across the valley to the mountains.
Sky Top is exclusively a pick-your-own apple orchard. It offers 25 different varieties to pick from. (Not all at the same time though! They ripen in stages from late August through October). Some will be familiar and some may be new. There is a useful chart on their website as well as at the farm which gives information about the flavor and uses of each variety. You can take a basket and pick your own or just wander through the orchard and buy a pre-picked bag. If you have never had fresh pressed, preservative-free cider you can try it and, of course, buy some here. They have hay rides and playgrounds for children, animals to pet and killer apple cider donuts. It is a lovely way to see the colors and enjoy the fall in Western North Carolina!