A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_170465" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] Jan Williams (above) and her husband, Art, combined the first two letters of the names of their first three children to create the name “Kalawi.” They

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_170465" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] Jan Williams (above) and her husband, Art, combined the first two letters of the names of their first three children to create the name “Kalawi.” They

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Fruit Full

Jan Williams (above) and her husband, Art, combined the first two letters of the names of their first three children to create the name “Kalawi.” They named the ice cream stand for their fourth child, Ben (pictured with his son Wade, 10). Williams also makes peach preserves using her mother’s recipe. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Kalawi Farm — Eagle Springs

When Jan Williams was growing up, her mother made peach ice cream every Sunday when the fruits were in season. Now, this third-generation peach farmer offers homemade peach ice cream and other flavors — including 10 named for each of her grandchildren — at Ben’s Ice Cream at Kalawi Farm. At her produce stand next door, she sells 43 varieties of peaches, plus preserves and other produce. Williams, who was a teacher for 10 years before making the farm her full-time job, says that the business is in her blood.
“It just gives me a thrill,” she says. “I love farming and growing peaches.”

1515 NC Highway 211
(910) 673-5996

On his farm in Candor, Benton Johnson grows about 70 acres of peach trees, including Autumn Princes. Unlike most varieties, which are available during the summer, these peaches don’t ripen until September. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Johnson’s Peaches — Candor

Third-generation peach grower Benton Johnson remembers selling peaches out of an old packhouse as a boy. Today, he sells more than 35 varieties at his indoor market, along with watermelons, cantaloupes, okra, and other produce that he grows on his farm. The market also sells peach jams and jellies, peach cider, and baked goods — including the popular peach dumplings. Johnson doesn’t know where the recipe originated, but “oh my goodness,” he says, “people drive for miles for a peach dumplin’.”

1348 Tabernacle Church Road
(910) 974-7730

Ridgeway Cantaloupes

Every summer for more than 50 years, Richard Holtzmann Jr. has sold cantaloupes. He started selling them out of a red wagon, then out of a cart hooked to the back of a red 1965 Plymouth Fury parked at the end of his driveway about a mile north of Ridgeway. His father, both grandfathers, and, he reckons, most of his great-grandfathers grew cantaloupes there. Farmers began planting the fruit in the Warren County community following the Civil War, looking for a crop that would flourish in soil depleted by cotton and tobacco. The red, loamy dirt proved perfect for the melons, and the town became famous for the extra sweet variety it produced. As for Holtzmann, he plans to keep planting and selling cantaloupes as long as he’s able — carrying on a community legacy that’s lasted for generations.

Clayton Garner Jr. knows that his melons are ready to be eaten when he cuts one from the vine, stands it on its end, and comes back a few minutes later to find red juice oozing out of the stem. photograph by Baxter Miller

Bogue Sound Watermelons

“I think we grow pretty good watermelons,” Clayton Garner Jr. says modestly. All of the watermelons at his third-generation family farm are picked when they’re ripe, and Garner sells most of them in the produce stand that he operates with his wife, Sherri, in Newport. Many believe that the sandy soil in the Bogue Sound area makes the melons sweeter than those grown elsewhere. Garner Farms grows several varieties each year, including the popular Sweet Gem — bright red on the inside with a nearly solid dark green rind.

173 Sam Garner Road
(252) 223-5283

When asked if The Berry Patch’s ice cream stand is really housed in the world’s largest strawberry, owner Lee Berry replies, “I’ve never seen one bigger.” Opposite: Juliana Ciprani, 11, and Easton McAuley, 9, enjoy the cold treats found inside. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

The Berry Patch — Ellerbe

Former Ellerbe Mayor Lee Berry — that’s his real name! — caught the farming bug while working a summer job after high school. He started his own strawberry farm in 1994, then later added an open-air roadside market. It was his wife, Amy, who had the idea for “the world’s largest strawberry” — an ice cream stand built to resemble a 24-foot-tall, 484-square-foot berry.

The Berry Patch owners Lee and Amy Berry freeze 6,000 pounds of strawberries each spring so they can offer their premium ice cream year-round. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Lee and Amy Berry make 20 flavors of ice cream (strawberry is the most popular, of course) in old-fashioned churns using rock salt and ice. “I have refused to go to the modern machines that make it quicker, more efficient,” Lee says. “I started this way, and my customers like knowing that’s how I make it. When you make the ice cream like I do, it takes 35 minutes to make a batch, and it has more time to marinate; the flavors spread more.” Lee says that the right ingredients, in addition to the right equipment, are the secret to a quality ice cream: heavy butterfat cream and berries picked at the peak of ripeness.

351 Cargo Road
(910) 652-3276

Cypress Bend Vineyards owners Tina and Dan Smith found a new way to use the land that Dan’s ancestors farmed for generations: muscadine grapes that they use to make wine. photograph by Faith Teasley

Muscadine Grapes
Cypress Bend Vineyards — Wagram

The 35 acres of muscadine grapes that Tina and Dan Smith planted for Cypress Bend Vineyards are part of a 1,000-acre plot of land that Dan’s ancestors purchased when they came over from Scotland in 1807. The couple wanted to continue the family’s tradition of farming, and Dan’s father was growing muscadines on a smaller scale for juice and jellies. The Smiths discovered that their mix of sandy and clay soil was perfect for growing the grapes. Now, more than two decades later, the winery produces 14 wines. Visitors to the tasting room can pack a picnic and sit on the patio, take a tour, or pick their own grapes from the vineyard from late summer to early fall.

21904 Riverton Road
(910) 369-0411

For all of Olde Carolina Eatery’s blueberry goodies — including pies, muffins, cookies, biscuits, cakes, cheesecakes, strudels, and jams — owner Frances Burns starts with fresh Pender County blueberries. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Olde Carolina Eatery — Burgaw

Frances Burns learned how to cook and bake from her mother — without using written recipes, never measuring anything. Today, the owner of the Olde Carolina Eatery often rolls out the crust for her famous blueberry pie using her mother’s rolling pin. And when it’s ready — golden brown, steaming, with a sweet scent almost like honeysuckle — she sometimes slices it with her mother’s pie knife. Another thing that came from her mother: the belief that appearance isn’t what matters with food. “The taste, the texture, the comfort, the warmth, the feeling that you get when you take a bite,” she says. “That’s all that counts.”

113 West Fremont Street
(910) 300-6571

Fried apple pies, apple cider doughnuts, caramel apples, and hot and cold cider are on the menu at the Justus Orchard Apple House Bakery. photograph by Jack Sorokin

Justus Orchard — Hendersonville

Don Justus’s mother, Glenda, was one of the first growers in Hendersonville to offer U-pick apples. When Don became the fourth generation to take over the family farm, he expanded the agritourism business. Now, Justus Orchard offers a host of activities on weekends during the fall apple season, including a playground, a miniature train, apple cannons, barbecue, and a bakery. But U-pick is still an important part of the business. “We know how important it is for some kids to realize that this stuff is not grown on a grocery store shelf,” Justus says. “The parents or the grandparents want to bring the kids out to see where and how it’s actually grown.”

187 Garren Road
(828) 974-1232

Take home a bushel of blackberries at the North Carolina Blackberry Festival. photograph by ©HOLLY CLARK/STOCKSY UNITED

Fruit Festivals
Summer is the season to celebrate figs, berries, and much more.

North Carolina Blackberry Festival
Lenoir — July 14-15

Blackberries are celebrated in a big way each July during the two-day North Carolina Blackberry Festival in downtown Lenoir. Festivalgoers can buy the fruit directly from a farmer, stain their fingers purple as they participate in blackberry eating competitions, or parade blackberry cobblers through town with the Colossal Cobbler Parade Brigade.


Ocracoke island’s famous figs are turned into delicious, sweet cakes. photograph by Emily Chaplin & Chris Council, Chris Hannant

Ocracoke Fig Festival
Ocracoke — August 4-5

Figs have been an important part of Ocracoke’s culture since the trees were first planted there by English colonists. And the way that the fruits are used on the island continues to evolve. In the 1960s, Margaret Garrish invented the Ocracoke fig cake by using fig preserves in an applesauce cake recipe. Today, the fig cake bake-off is the main event at the Ocracoke Fig Festival. Now in its 10th year, the event is hosted by the Ocracoke Preservation Society on the first weekend of August. Visitors can purchase fig trees and food and art featuring the fruit, or dance the Ocracoke square dance. One event favorite: listening to local fig expert Chester Lynn give a talk about fig trees in his native brogue.

To find more fruit festivals across the state, visit ourstate.com/fruitfestivals.

This story was published on Jun 23, 2023