photos by Amy Lemley Bailey
Apples are easy to take for granted – they are always in the grocery store and they grow in abundance. However, just like the rest of our food, apples are best during their peak season. To experience the taste of an apple like you never have before travel to a U-pick apple orchard. In the mountains of western North Carolina you will find some of the best orchards for picking apples. Beginning late summer through late October, it is peak apple season and throughout the season each week you will find another variety of apple peaking.
Did you know there are over 7,500 of varieties of apples? U-pick orchards will each have different varieties available for picking, some carrying heirlooms dating back to the early 1900s. Here are some of the apples you will find at the orchards in North Carolina:
- Pink Lady – Available mid-late October, tart and sweet, holds shape well, great for baking, pies, sauces, and salads.
- Stayman – Available late September-late October, tart, holds shape, great for baking, pies, sauces, and salads.
- Granny Smith – Available mid-late October, very tart, holds shape, great for baking, pies, sauces, and salads.
- York – Available early October, tart, holds shape but softer, great for baking and pies.
- Fuji – Available late September, sweet, firmly holds shape, great for baking and pies.
- Rome – Available late September-late October, mild, holds shape but softer, great for baking, pies, and sauces.
- Blushing Gold – Available mid September-mid October, tart and sweet, holds shape, baking, butter, and pies.
- Mutsu – Available early September, mildly tart, holds shape, great for baking, pies, and sauces.
- Honey Crisp – Available late August-September, sweet, holds shape, great for baking, pies, and sauces.
- Arkansas Black – Available mid-late October, tart, holds shape, great for baking, pies, and sauces.
For a full list of varieties click here.
Here are 5 of the Best Apple Orchards in western North Carolina:
Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard Hendersonville – Stepp’s is family run since 1967 offering over 70 acres of apples. Open 7 days a week in season and offering a wide variety of apples, along with pumpkins and fall fun for the little ones.
Sky Top Orchard Flat Rock – Sky Top not only offers acre after acre of apples, but also panoramic vies of the mountains along with ponds, barnyard animals, and a bamboo forest. Sky Top has also been consistently featured as one of the best orchards in the country. Open 7 days a week August 1-December 1 (closed on Thanksgiving).
Justus Orchard Hendersonville – The Justus Family has been growing delicious NC Apples in Hendersonville for more than 4 generations, with the 5th generation now an active part of the orchard. You will find U-Pick or We-Pick apples, blackberries, and pumpkins. Open 7 days a week.
Coston Farm Hendersonville – Located on Chimney Rock Road in Hendersonville between I-26 and Chimney Rock Park near Asheville, Coston Farm and Apple House is like visiting family. Buy fresh apples and pumpkins, pick your own apples, and indulge in the fragrant smells of the season while shopping in the Apple House Bakery and Gift Shop. Open 7 days a week during season.
The Orchard At Altapass – Off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Altapass grows many variety of heirloom apples from trees planted by the original owner in the 1920s. Enjoy picking your own along with music events meant to celebrate the culture of western North Carolina. A peck is $10 and 1/2 a peck $5. Open September-November 1 10-6pm everyday.
How to Pick the Best Apples at the Orchard
Here are some tips that can help you bring home the best fruit possible.
- Choose fruit that’s firm and free of nicks and bruises.
- Colors vary on apple types and may not indicate ripeness. The orchard should have a sheet to help you know which varieties are ripe.
- The apples nearest the outside of the tree are the ones that ripen first. If a variety is at peak ripening time, start there for the best ready-to-eat apples.
- Picked apples do not ripen more once they are removed from the branch.
- To pick an apple off the tree rotate the fruit upwards and twist. Do not pull down and never shake branches.
Quick Tip: In general, the firmer the apple, the more starch, and the better the fruit will hold up when cooked.
How to Store Fresh Apples
For a day or two, fresh apples may be left on the counter at room temperature. But if you have more apples than you’ll use in that time (or want to save them for future eating or baking) store them in the fridge. Keep apples in a separate compartment because they give off a gas that hastens the ripening of other vegetables.
Want to have a few apples for wintertime baking? Simply slice apples and freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once completely frozen, place the apple slices in a freezer-safe plastic container or freezer bag.
Should You Really Eat an Apple a Day?
Adding a fresh apple to your daily routine can help in many ways:
- Apples are relatively low in calories. An average serving size for an apple is only about 65 calories.
- Apples have lots of fiber which has been shown to lower cholesterol.
- A single apple offers a good amount a of vitamin C.
- Because they are high in anti-oxidants, apples can lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- Apples have been shown to be a factor in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- When eaten regularly apples satisfy your sugar cravings which helps you manage your weight.