Got those change-of-season allergies? It’s no coincidence that WNC’s apple season officially kicks off when the sniffles start — a local apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? If you didn’t get your fall supply at the North Carolina Apple Festival earlier this month, don’t worry. September is all about apples in ASAP’s Get Local campaign, which puts the spotlight on a featured local product when at its best. That means not only can you pick your own now, you can find them featured on restaurant and bakery menus around the region. Especially in apple country: Henderson County.
“For lunch, we offer a Curried Chicken Salad with local julienned apples and spinach greens, and we also have a classic Waldorf chicken salad sandwich with loads of diced local apples in it,” says Matthew Lineback, sous chef at Season’s at Highland Lake Inn. The Flat Rock restaurant’s menu was created by Executive chef Peter Fassbender. For dinner, the restaurant offers a pork loin chop with local apple compote, spaetzle and braised red cabbage with a local apple cider gastrique. Or, opt for a duck breast with roasted local Fuji apples, farro, shitake mushrooms and bacon.
Highland Lake Inn sources the majority of their produce from an organic garden on the inn’s property and from Mountain Food Products, a local distribution company that buys their apples from Hendersonville's Apple Haven Orchard. They also make frequent stops at the Mountain Fresh Orchard stand on Highway 64 and McAbee’s Fruit Stand off Upward Road. McAbee’s, they note, carries applewood chips, which can be used for making applewood-smoked bacon.
David Workman, co-owner of Flat Rock Village Bakery, is also a familiar face at McAbee’s, where he buys apples for the bakery’s apple-and-cheese danishes, turnovers, pies and tartlets, personal pies you can have all to yourself. And Rob Keener, executive chef and new owner of Square One Bistro on Main Street in Hendersonville (he also owns Flight Wood Grill), is also a client of Mountain Foods. “I make a local apple turnover with homemade butter pecan ice cream and utilize local apples to make puree/juice for martinis,” he says. “I also plan to get a food-dehydrator and fabricate some apples for my garnishes.”
But sharing sources is where their similarities end. “I like Golden Delicious early in the season while they are still crisp,” says Workman, who picks Granny Smith and Mutsus mid-season. “I prefer the Rome and Gala varieties; Rome for eating and garnishing and Gala for cooking,” says Keener. Even among Highland Lake Inn staff, apple allegiances vary. “I like Honeycrisps because of their crispness and slight tartness,” says Lineback. For chef Fassbender, it’s all about Pink Ladies because of their sweetness.
Pseudo variety wars aside, local chefs agree local apples are important. That’s music to the ears of Henderson County’s new agri-business development director, Mark Williams, who’s tasked with helping growers stay in business. “The restaurant community sees the benefit of serving locally produced products from apples to heirloom tomatoes,” he says, sharing his excitement about seeing their menus and the entire area come alive around apples during September.
He’s happy to report that all that buzz has gotten Henderson County’s apples noticed outside of the region. A buyer/processor from Pennsylvania was recently here checking out area growers.
“To me, it’s a great life to be in apple production,” says Williams, who grew up around apples and whose family still owns a local orchard. “But, it’s also got many challenges.” That means, he says, it’s up to us to support apple growers and our region’s farming industry. Thanks to Season’s, Flat Rock Village Bakery, Square One Bistro and many others, that should be as easy as pie.
For a complete list of participating Get Local eateries, visit the Get Local page of asapconnections.org.
Find more fall ‘cures’ at tailgates
Early apples, like Honeycrips and Galas, have been available at markets for a few weeks now, but more varieties are quickly becoming abundant. Look for Jonagold, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Mutsu, as well as Candy Crisp and Cameo in the coming weeks. As summer turns to fall, also be on the lookout for winter squash — like butternut and delicata — and keep your eyes peeled for the reappearance of broccoli, cauliflower and greens, such as kale and spinach.
For a complete list of area farmers tailgate markets, visit ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org and search “tailgates.”
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at email@example.com.