If the old wife’s tale is true – that an apple a day keeps the doctor away – folks in Hendersonville, North Carolina should be the healthiest in the state. North Carolina is the 7th largest apple-producing state in the nation and Henderson County is the largest apple-producing county in North Carolina. This was news to me. Although I lived in North Carolina for years and had passed through Hendersonville on occasion, I was unaware that apples were such an important part of the economy that the town sponsors the annual Apple Festival in Hendersonville during the Labor Day weekend every year.
I am here quite by accident. Keeping my NC real estate license on active status requires me to take eight hours of continuing education each year. I chose to attend classes in Hendersonville because it is a day’s drive from Sarasota, Florida. The classes were painful – eight hours trapped in a conference room with a hundred other agents who didn’t want to be there either – but once the disagreeable deed was done, I regained my sanity by investigating this lovely town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area at the southern end of the Smoky Mountains.
Shaking off the drudgery of the classes, I strolled the length of Hendersonville’s historic Main Street, enjoying this charming downtown that wanders up and down gently rolling hills, with views to the not-too-distant mountains. At the Henderson County Courthouse I paused to examine the curious giant hand-painted apple on the sidewalk. Soon I realized that these apple sculptures were scattered throughout downtown. This program of public art on display, appropriately named “A Slice of Hendersonville,” showcases apples decorated with images of bluegrass musicians, mountains, valley orchards, sheet music, maps, and even a scene from “Alice In Wonderland.” The local goldsmith utilized paint, glitter, glass beads and rhinestones to create a bejeweled apple. The apple sponsored by the area’s newspaper, the Times-News, titled “News A-Peel,” portrays a beautifully painted landscape representing Henderson County.
Toward the end of my tour I discovered my favorite sculpture, a giant caramel apple sponsored by Kilwin’s of Hendersonville. This ice cream, fudge, and candy shop on the north end of Main serves the “biggest hand-dipped apples in town,” all guaranteed to be locally grown by a Henderson County farmer. The caramel is made on site; on the evening I visited the copper pots were boiling, sending heavenly fragrances wafting from the shop. Struggling to resist the temptation, I struck up a conversation with some local residents who were enjoying after-dinner ice cream cones.
“Have you seen the rainbow apple?” one of them inquired. “It’s generated lots of controversy.”
Sponsored by Delton & David Interiors, the apple is decorated with rainbow horizontal stripes on the outside, which many assume to represent the Gay Pride flag. Inside, the apple is pure white, proclaiming “We are all the same on the inside.” I never could find this particular apple; perhaps it was tucked away on some side street because of the heated debate.
When I remarked to my new acquaintances that I was surprised to learn apples were the county’s major crop, they explained that although the town backed up to mountains on the west, to the east the land dropped off into a valley with perfect conditions for growing apples. Indeed, the following day I drove down into the valley. Apple orchards, packing houses, and roadside stands stretched along both sides of the road for miles. It is said that if all the apples grown in one season in Henderson county were laid side-by-side, they would reach from Hendersonville to Tokyo and back again. The 200+ area growers produce Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty and Galas, in addition to some specialty varieties.
Capitalizing on their apple status, Hendersonville sponsors the North Carolina Apple Festival every Labor Day weekend. The King Apple Parade is the highlight of the four day festival, which also features a street fair on Historic Main Street, continuous live musical entertainment, arts & crafts, children’s activities, and special exhibits. A highlight of the Apple Festival in Hendersonville is the local apple growers, who set up kiosks along the main street to sell more than 30 varieties from their orchards. It’s a great way to discover your favorite apple by sampling Honey Crisp, Pink Ladies, Cameos, Fuji, Gingergold, Galas Mutsu, Jonagold, Staymen Winesap, Cortland, Wolf River, Banana Rose, and Sheepnose, among others.
But that’s not all. Many of the growers also offer delicious homemade products such apple cider donuts, fresh-baked apple pie, fried apple pies, apple cobblers, apple cider slushies, apple wedges with caramel dip, candied apples, jams and preserves, apple butter, and apple fries with dip. I may just have to wander back through Hendersonville this coming Labor Day to partake in the festivities. If I’m extra lucky, I might even find some vegan apple fritters to sample. In the meantime – well, you’ll have to excuse me. I simply can’t resist the mouth-watering aroma of those caramel apples any longer.