Apple names have gotten strange. Some read like a cross-cultivar between pet names and underdog sports leagues: Arlet, Jazz, Cripps Pink, Arkansas Black, Aurora Golden Gala. Other new varieties sound like perfume: SweeTango, Envy, Ariane. But such self-evident heirloom varieties as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious still top lists devoted to the most popular apples, closely vying with Galas and Fujis.
In WNC’s foodie-centric and agritourism-friendly culture, it’s important to know your apple varieties, including which species are best for which activity: eating, baking, infusing into vodka for a fancy craft cocktail. The annual North Carolina Apple Festival, held over Labor Day weekend, features an 8K in Hendersonville’s historic downtown district, pancake breakfasts, and a long-distance bike ride through the nearby countryside.
Mostly, it’s family-centered family fun all down Main Street — crafts, food vendors, kids’ activities — culminating with the beloved King Apple Parade. But when coordinators talk about the Apple Festival, serious statistics inevitably sprout up: North Carolina is the seventh largest apple-producing state in the country, and Henderson County produces the most apples in the state, with around 200 growers.
Apple farming in Henderson County stretches back to the 1700s, and a quick bio peek at most area orchards reveals farming families in their third, fourth, or fifth generations and beyond.Creasman Apple Orchard and Farm specializes in many new apple varieties alongside heirlooms, and spokesperson/grower Dawn Creasman is a member of the festival’s Board of Directors and a co-chair of the Apple Ambassador scholarship program for high-school students.
The rise in agritourism means more people know their fruit. Creasman says her family’s orchard offers the newer types of apples, keeping up with the trends. But customers just as frequently request the heirloom varieties, and for another reason: “People are looking for the apples from their childhood.”
Local food blogger/book author Ashley English uses them to make dried apple rings, apple butter, apple hand pies, and applesauce, and to enhance meatloaf. She favors the incomparably juicy Honeycrisp, developed in 1960.
“If I see Honeycrisps,” she says, “I buy them by the pound. They’re life-changing.”
The North Carolina Apple Festival runs August 29 through September 1 in downtown Hendersonville and various satellite locations. Ncapplefestival.org