Apple gleaning, beer floats and the closing of Ophelias

An apple a day

When it's apple season in Western North Carolina, there's no avoiding it. Hendersonville just held its festival celebrating the fruit, and Waynesville has one too. Hickory Nut Forest in Hickory Nut Gorge is gearing up for itsown festival as well. AppleFest, a free, family-friendly event, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 1 until 5 p.m.

This is the third apple festival for the 270-acre eco-community, home to solar-powered homes, organic gardens and orchards. Jane Lawson purchased the forested property with her husband John Myers in 2004, and with the help of friends and volunteers, cleared the land — discovering 115 apple trees hidden under a jungle of overgrowth. The apple trees include varieties like Rome, golden and red delicious, winesaps and more. 

The old orchard has since been restored nearly to its former glory. "It was overgrown and in disarray," says Lawson. "We've done some pruning, and we've also added more fruit varieties as well as nut trees. The golden delicious trees are bearing really great fruit right now," she adds.

Lawson reports that some rather old, well-established grape vines were also discovered on the property during the clearing. Her husband lists the grape varieties as Concord, Niagara, Freedona's big blue and Lucille's, a pink variety. The couple hopes to learn how to make wine in the future, but is in no rush. "We're not vintners by a long shot," says Lawson, "but we're learning everything as we go. It's a work in progress."

Those grapes will be present for sampling at the apple festival as well, although the focus is obviously on apples.

"We ask that people come and pick as many apples as they want. We have cider presses going, apple pies for people to eat, apple cake and apple butter. We just try to make it a fun event with kids games," Lawson says. The property also has more than five miles of hiking trails. “It's right on Hickory Nut Creek,” she says. “It's a beautiful setting, and we're just wanting to share the fruits of the harvest."

“First, we invite members of the larger community to harvest," says Myers. "Then the gleaners come and gather apples to the food banks. Finally, people come and pick up the ground apples for their animals. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Hickory Nut Forest Eco-Community is currently expanding their orchard into a permaculture food forest with more than 40 varieties of perennial fruits and nuts, with the help of resident Ryan Lubbers, who has a Masters degree in permaculture. The community also features green-built homes with renewable energy and a solar-powered community center. The residents of the community will be on hand to answer questions about Hickory Nut Forest. Still, the star of the show? The apples.

“We started AppleFest as a way of giving the apples something to do,” says Myers.

This year’s AppleFest includes music, cider making, kid’s events and asampling of various apple goodies by Jack’s Catering of Asheville. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own containers to take the apples home. AppleFest is a free, family event. For more information and directions, visit HickoryNutForest.com or LaughingWatersNC.com or call John Myers at 712-4926.

Floating action

Beer and ice cream? The combination may seem strange to some, but when The Hop Ice Cream Company and Craggie Brewing Company join together, magic can happen.

Case in point: the Hop's Antebellum Ice Cream has been on their menu for months, and it's mighty tasty. Ashley Garisson, who owns the ice cream shop with her husband Greg, makes a mean beer ice cream. She uses the the alcohol-free syrup from Craggie Brewing Company's Antebellum Ale, an 1840's-style American Ale, brewed with molasses, ginger root and spruce tips, and adds it to either a vegan almond or standard ice cream base. The end result is creamy, malty and laced with a mellow but spicy ginger flavor.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m., the Hop and Craggie are putting their heads together once again. This time, they’re hosting an ice-cream social for a good cause. For $6, guests at the Craggie Public House, located at 197 Hilliard Ave. in downtown Asheville, will receive a float featuring Craggie's Antebellum Ale paired with the Hop’s Antebellum ice cream. The float will be served in a special Craggie Willi, short for willibecher — a tall, tapered glass that holds close to 22 ounces. What's it matter what the darn glass looks like? Plenty; attendees get to take the vessel home.

Proceeds for this event benefit the YMCA's Strong Kids campaign, which helps children and families facing economic, medical and emotional hardships participate in YMCA programs that might not otherwise be available to them.

For more information, visit craggiebrewingco.com.

The fate of Ophelia

Ophelia’s World Cafe has closed. The restaurant opened at 15 Eagle St. in 2006, under the rather ill-advised name, Bearly Edible. The moniker was inspired by a mobile kitchen that former Ophelia’s owner Mark Ware kept for years on the festival circuit — “Bearly” being a reference to dancing bears, an iconic symbol of the Grateful Dead.

In a flash of sanity, however, the owner changed the name of the restaurant to Ophelia’s several months after the doors opened, and raised the level of cuisine from upscale lot food to modern-American with a focus on local foods. At that time, co-owner Paul Farese came on board. Ware left Ophelia’s in 2008 to concentrate on catering — Farese stayed on to run the restaurant.*

It recently came to the attention of the Xpress that, not only has the restaurant closed, it appears to have been abandoned. Much of the furniture is still in the restaurant, though it has been stacked to facilitate cleaning.

Eyewitness reports indicate that a cleaning team was hired by the owner of the property in order to remove refuse and rotting food. The eyewitness entered the building several days after cleaning began, and described the smell and state of the restaurant as “overwhelming.” The area has since been thoroughly cleaned and remains empty.

* In the original version of this story, we mentioned founding owner of Ophelia’s (Mark Ware), but omitted the name of the party that owned and operated the restaurant at the time of its closing (Paul Farese). Ware is not responsible for any incident that occurred within the restaurant since leaving in 2008. We apologize for the omission.

— Send your food news to food@mountainx.com

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