1. Apple Picking In North Carolina, apples are our sweet and tart stars of autumn. Each fall, orchards and roadside stands become destinations, and nowhere is that truer than in
1. Apple Picking
In North Carolina, apples are our sweet and tart stars of autumn. Each fall, orchards and roadside stands become destinations, and nowhere is that truer than in Henderson County, home to more than 200 growers. Pick your own against a picture-perfect mountain backdrop: Grab a basket, head into the rows of trees, and pluck perfectly ripe apples right off the branch. And pssst … we won’t tell if you can’t wait to have a taste. — Katie Schanze
2. Miss Debbie’s Specialty Apples
For Debbie Booth, crafting delicious caramel and candy apples is all about the creativity that she can infuse into each one, from their names to their toppings. “Sometimes, I just sit around with my daughter and we throw out ideas for new names,” Booth says. “They can get a little crazy!” But the result is sweet. From her home base in Benson to her annual appearance at the North Carolina State Fair, she’s earned repeat customers who return for confections like the Big Magumba — a Granny Smith covered in caramel and marshmallows, drizzled in chocolate, and sprinkled in pecans — and her best-selling Caramel Apple Pie, a Granny Smith dipped in caramel and white chocolate, then covered with brown sugar and cinnamon. And for 35 years, Booth has dipped and decorated nearly every apple. “I prefer to decorate every apple myself because I like them done a certain way,” she says. “They’re my creations, and I’m so proud of them.” — Anna Grace Thrailkill
3. Apple Cider Doughnuts, Sky Top Orchard
You won’t forget your first bite of a soft, sugary, still-warm-from-the-fryer doughnut at Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock.
1193 Pinnacle Mountain Road
Flat Rock, NC 28731
4. The Old Cider Mill
Sitting above the Rocky Broad River in Bat Cave, The Old Cider Mill is a homey spot where you can relax and breathe in the autumn air. Watch a weekly cider-pressing demonstration in the old mill, shop for homemade jams and jellies in the Applesolutely Gift Shop, or make your way down to the river for a picnic below the mill — all with a cup of warm apple cider in hand. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
33 Gerton Highway
Bat Cave, NC 28710
5. Applewood Spoons
After recovering an apple tree from some property he was landscaping, Craig Yerden took carving classes so that he could do justice to the applewood’s fine grain, which, it turns out, is perfect for spoon carving. Now, Yerden spends hours carving one-of-a-kind applewood spoons at his home in Greensboro, and his process is all about intuition and discovery. “Lots of people will stencil a design on the wood before they start carving spoons, but I don’t see much purpose in that — I just look at the wood and let it reveal itself for what it is,” Yerden says. “Each spoon is different because of that. And I get to show off the tree in another form.” — Anna Grace Thrailkill
6. Fried Apple Pies, Justus Orchard
At this pick-your-own apple orchard in Hendersonville, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the crisp air, the rolling mountains, and the sweet, irresistible scent of fried apple pies. The hand pies are one part Mutsu apple and one part nostalgia, and these days, it’s hard to find them anywhere else. — Caroline Kelly
187 Garren Road
Hendersonville, NC 28792
7. Molley Chomper Hard Cider
Gather ’round the firepit and sip a glass of bubbly gold goodness at this Lansing cidery tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
165 Piney Creek Road
Lansing, NC 2864
8. Michael Sherrill’s Apple Art
In his Bat Cave studio surrounded by creeks, chirping birds, and apple trees, artist Michael Sherrill crafts stunning sculptures while learning lessons from the land. Heavy with Love shows three ripe, red apples hanging from a branch: “I made the piece when my three oldest kids were becoming young adults,” he says. “It really speaks to those feelings — you worry and care about them, and yet that fruit is ripe, and it’s getting ready to be independent of the tree.” — Anna Grace Thrailkill
9. Tom Brown’s Heritage Apples
“Let’s drive out to the country! We might find an old apple tree,” Tom Brown told his wife in the early 2000s. These days, Brown has a better method for finding heirloom apples. “I go looking for people,” he says. Wilkes County is full of people who are happy to help — and to show off their prized fruits. “The reason there are so many varieties in Wilkes County is because of the culture — you’ll go to one house, and they’ll have three apple trees that are all different. And then maybe six houses down the road are four more apple trees, and they’ll all be different from the ones at the first house,” Brown says. “Many people in Wilkes told me that they take pride in having apples that are different from their neighbors’.” Though Brown is exhilarated by the search, his sole motivation is keeping the heirloom varieties alive. “Many of the people who could identify these apples are now deceased,” Brow says. “I couldn’t go out today and duplicate the discoveries I’ve had within the past five years, because I might not be able to find people to identify them.” To keep the heirloom apple legacy thriving, Brown tends to an orchard and nursery of nearly 800 varieties that he has carefully recorded and grafted from his discoveries. He now sells them to the next generation — one that’s eager to preserve this edible piece of North Carolina heritage. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
10. Appalachian Apple Stack Cake
Thin layers of sorghum-sweetened cake and a filling made from dried apples: There is no recipe more rooted in Appalachian mountain culture.
Find the recipe here.
11. Apple Lake at Half-Mile Farm
The inn at Half-Mile Farm in Highlands boasts a stunning and historic setting, but the property’s most beautiful feature might be Apple Lake — a serene body of water with neighboring apple trees. Just a short walk down the great lawn from the inn, Apple Lake is enchanting, especially when it takes on a golden-hour glow. “It’s pretty quiet out there,” says marketing assistant Ginger Moseley. “It’s funny — you’re not really out of town at all, but you feel like you’re far, far away.” — Anna Grace Thrailkill
214 Half Mile Drive
Highlands, NC 28741
12. Cornbread with Caramelized Apples & Onions
Grab your trusty cast-iron to make this dressed-up version of a Southern classic.
Find the recipe here.
13. Mattamuskeet Apples
We often head west for apples, where orchards abound, but hidden out east in Hyde County is a surprising variety of the fall fruit. Rich with flavor and folklore, the Mattamuskeet is a dark, rusty-red beauty with tart, sour flesh. Legend has it that it grew from seeds found in the gizzard of a wild goose near Lake Mattamuskeet sometime before 1858. The “Skeet” apple, as old-timers call it, still thrives in North Carolina’s warm Coastal Plain. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
14. The Orchard Restaurant
Named after the old apple trees found on its property, this converted farmhouse restaurant in Cashiers specializes in American cuisine with a Southern flare. Their signature dish, an homage to the property’s history, is Orchard Chicken: chicken breast filled with apples, walnuts, sage, and provolone cheese, breaded and gently fried, and topped with a fresh apricot glaze. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
905 Highway 107 South
Cashiers, NC 28717
15. Apple Hill Farm
Lee Rankin remembers the exact moment nearly 20 years ago when she came face to face with an alpaca for the first time. She had little experience caring for animals, but in an instant, she knew she wanted to be around these soulful creatures. She said goodbye to her astonished family and friends, and moved with her 2-year-old son to Banner Elk to start a farm. Now, in addition to tending to the animals — including llamas, goats, horses, donkeys, chickens, dogs, cats, and pigs — Rankin and her staff offer tours, helping visitors remember how to listen to nature. — Katie Saintsing
400 Apple Hill Road
Banner Elk, NC 28604
16. Caramel Apples with Salted Peanuts
These sweet-and-salty caramel apples bring the State Fair to your kitchen.
Find the recipe here.
17. Apple Butter
When it comes to making apple butter the old-fashioned way, “it’s really a two-day event,” Randy McClellan says. He should know — he’s made it in a custom 60-gallon vat at the Mitchell County Historical Society’s Apple Butter Festival for the past seven years. “It’s a heritage thing,” he says. The day before the festival, McClellan peels, slices, and precooks 12 bushels of apples for four hours. The next day, he cooks them some more, then adds sugar and cinnamon oil. Then people line up to buy his apple butter as quickly as he can jar it: “You can open a jar and sit down and eat half a pint at a time,” he says. — Sophie Shaw
18. Noble Cider
In 2012, Asheville native Lief Stevens, tired of too-sweet cider, began to wonder why there were no local options, especially when the city had a thriving craft beer scene. One day, while Stevens was at a bar with friends Trevor and Joanna Baker, everything clicked: Joanna suggested that they start their own cidery — one that could showcase truly local apples. Today, Noble Cider produces deliciously dry ciders made with fresh-pressed apples in flagship flavors like crisp dry, cherry, ginger, and chai, plus a dozen other small-batch and seasonal creations. — Katie Schanze
356 New Leicester Highway
Asheville, NC 28806
19. Southern Heritage Apple Orchard
This orchard at Horne Creek Living Historical Farm in Surry County is a trove of heirloom trees with more than 425 varieties of old Southern apples, many of which are nearly extinct. — Katie Schanze
308 Horne Creek Farm Road
Pinnacle, NC 27043
20. Burntshirt Vineyards
Move over, grapes! At Burntshirt Vineyards in Hendersonville, it’s only right that there’s a wine starring the area’s prized fruit: “Henderson County is really the apple county of the East Coast, so it just made sense,” says head winemaker Derek Pross. Made with juice from local apples, the wine is bright and crisp, and maintains the fruit’s pure character. “It’s really the flavor of our place,” Pross says. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
2695 Sugarloaf Road
Hendersonville, NC 28792
21. Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Bite into these sweet, salty, apple pie-inspired dessert bars for an instant taste of fall.
Find the recipe here.
22. Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies
Pots of apple slices simmer as Angela Shur shapes pie crusts. A bell sounds, pulling her away from her kneading, and she moves several pies to cooling racks so that another set can take their place in the hot oven. Shur began baking when her husband, Randy, planted 100 fruit trees on their farm. Today, in Mount Airy, the aroma of fresh dough and baked fruit lures passersby into her shop, Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies. — Micki Bare
153 North Main Street
Mount Airy, NC 27030
23. Slice Pie Company
The most important object in Slice’s Raleigh kitchen is a framed blue ribbon from the 1997 North Carolina State Fair. That year, Mike Mullins entered an apple pie — and won. Often, his daughter Kristen gave her father’s pies as gifts. “People kept saying, ‘This is the best pie I’ve ever eaten in my whole life,’ ” she says. Finally, the idea of a pie business was born, and the father-daughter pair launched Slice in 2014. Their most popular offering? Apple, of course. — Susan Stafford Kelly
24. Mountain Fresh Orchards Apple Stand
Every year, 16 types of apples at Mountain Fresh Orchards’ roadside stand in Hendersonville bring repeat customers in long caravans of cars, vans, and chartered buses for a beloved fall tradition. Don’t miss the bakery, where you can add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to any apple turnover, slice of pie, dumpling, or tart. — Katie Schanze
2887 Chimney Rock Road
Hendersonville, NC 28792
25. Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard
This Hendersonville orchard has been inviting customers to pick their own apples for 50 years. Once you fill your basket, pick up some pumpkin doughnuts. — Katie Schanze
170 Stepp Orchard Drive
Hendersonville, NC 28792
26. O’Quinn Pottery’s Apple Bakers
Nothing says fall quite like the scent of warm brown sugar, cinnamon, and apples wafting from your oven. Seagrove potter Sandra O’Quinn turns that magical memory into a reality. O’Quinn makes hand-thrown apple bakers — a round crock with a spike in the center that holds a cored apple (or onion!) in place as it bakes. The best part? Each one comes with O’Quinn’s signature recipe for baked apples. — Anna Grace Thrailkill
4456 Busbee Road
Seagrove, NC 27341
27. Apple Ugly, Orange Blossom Bakery
At first glance, you might think there’s a platter of mangled rotisserie chickens on the breakfast counter at Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton, but you’re looking at an Apple Ugly, a deep-fried, cinnamon-laced fritter filled with apples and glaze that ooze out slowly when you take a bite. “The uglier and more twisted it is,” owner Charley Pereira says, “the more cracks and crevices it has to soak up the glaze.” If you want one, be sure to stand in the “ugly line.” It might just make your day prettier. — Hannah Mitchell
47206 NC Highway 12
Buxton, NC 27920
28. Apple Cider Slushy, Millstone Creek Orchards
The famous apple cider slushies at Millstone Creek Orchards in Ramseur are made with 100 percent juice pressed from three types of apples. Just watch out for brain freeze. — Katie Schanze
506 Parks Crossroads Church Road
Ramseur, NC 27316
Each year at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair, members of Faith Church fold, fry, and sell more than 8,000 applejacks. If you’re from anywhere but eastern North Carolina, you may be wondering, Wait, what’s an applejack? To local folks, it is a crispy, just-fried apple hand pie, well worth waiting in line for — even a 60-person line. — Emma Laperruque
Find our version here.
30. Big Horse Creek Farm
Ron and Suzanne Joyner’s orchards in Ashe County are speckled with apples far removed from the limelight. Whether you call them heirloom, antique, or heritage, you can unequivocally call them rare apples with curious names. Maiden’s Blush and Sops of Wine. Winter Sweet Paradise and Westfield Seek-No-Further. In all, the couple grows about 400 varieties — “just a small drop in the bucket compared to apples that were growing at one time in the United States,” Ron says. Ron is trying to reintroduce some of those long-forgotten apples back into the national conversation. “Every apple has a story,” he says. — Brian Mims
31. Historic Orchard at Altapass
This orchard on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Spruce Pine carries more than the fruit of its 3,000 apple trees. Here, mountain heritage is preserved through music, dance, storytelling, and crafts.
Related Story: Our State Knows Best – Apples
We talked to three experts — including Angela Shur of Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies — to find out the best places to pick ’em, the secret to making a perfect apple pie, and the one apple they’d eat for the rest of their lives.
This story was published on Sep 29, 2020