Hopefully you’ve managed to go pickin’ this apple season. If not, now's the time — or at least time to find baskets of juicy, crisp local apples at your farmers market. What can you do with the abundance of fruit? Local chefs and bakers suggest pies, cobblers, crisps, tarts, jams, chips, cider and applesauce for a start. They also tout apples as the perfect accompaniment to roast pork and salad greens.
Before you get started cooking and baking, there are some important things to note about this season’s harvest, especially in regards to storage. Grower David Butler of Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock tells his customers to only purchase the amount of fruit they’re comfortable using up in several weeks, and he stresses the importance of refrigeration because of accelerated ripening.
“We had a fairly warm April,” he notes, adding that spring seemed to skip over WNC altogether this year. But it’s not necessarily the record daily highs that have affected area apples. “It’s the low temperatures at night not nestling down where they usually do,” he says.
According to Butler, nighttime temps are up about five to 10 degrees. That means fruit sugars are up, too, making apples more susceptible to heat and causing them to ripen quickly. Local apples are ready for picking seven to 10 days early this year. Currently, Butler is seeing his apples fall from the trees prematurely.
But that doesn’t mean it has or will be a bad season — in fact, it’s been great so far. “We’ve had enough rain,” he says. “The apple trees haven’t gone through a period of prolonged drought or a slow period of growth.” Butler also feels that growers should have good volumes of flavorful apples all season long. He says that once it becomes fall, the later varieties (Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Arkansas Black) aren’t likely to experience the same too-quick ripening.
Additional seasonal effects, like cracking, aren’t necessarily a bad thing either. When the top of the apples crack, it’s just a cosmetic issue, he says.
Butler uses his cracked apples in pies and cider, but many growers bring their less-than-visually-perfect apples to market. “Other folks call them seconds, culls, or even compost,” says Tom Elmore of Thatchmore Farm in Leicester, who calls his “cosmetically challenged” and sells them at the West Asheville and North Asheville tailgate markets.
“I hate to compost food that’s perfectly good, except for a few cosmetic issues, so we cut the price drastically,” he shares. As a result, many customers ask for his “C.C.” apples each week. What about the taste? “Folks notice crispness first followed by sweetness,” says Butler.
That applies to all local apples. A fresh local apple has a complex finish, Tom notes: “Layers of flavor, just like a wine.”
“The taste speaks for itself,” echoes J. Joseph Lewis, chef and owner of Square 1 Bistro in Hendersonville. “When you cut into them, the flesh is white or pink and the texture smooth and crisp, not green or mealy.”
Chef Lewis’ favorite apple to cook with is the Granny Smith. “They have a nice tartness that works especially well with desserts,” he shares. Cathy Cleary, owner of West End Bakery in Asheville, likes baking with Mutsus best. “They don’t turn to mush when baked,” she says, adding that they also manage to retain their distinctive flavor. Debi Thomas of Wildflour Bakery in Saluda uses Honeycrisps for absolutely everything.
Looking to pair apples with other local ingredients you have on hand? Cleary suggests using them as a compliment to beets, goat cheese, fennel, pumpkins, figs, blueberries and greens. Thomas encourages adding rhubarb to applesauce for a special kick.
Local apples are currently on the menus of several area eateries as part of "Get Local," a year-round a program of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Local Food Campaign that brings together restaurants and chefs around the region to highlight a single seasonal ingredient.
Check the sidebars for anapple salad idea and the steps for making a sweet treat. You can also visit ncapples.com and asapconnections.org for even more tasty apple recipes.
To find orchards or tailgate markets with local apple vendors, visit ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org and search by product. If you’re hunting for your favorite variety, don’t wait, as apples are ahead of schedule. Call your area growers to check offerings.
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at email@example.com.
who: Angela Faye Martin & The Scarlet Oak Sway (Tim Lee III opens)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Sept. 10 (9 p.m., $8. thegreyeagle.com)