After a wild evening spent celebrating the marriage of Kirby and Julia Crider, I awoke to my last day in North Carolina with a mean hangover that could only be cured by one thing: apple picking. I was invited to embark on a pick-your-own adventure during a lovely meal of homemade chicken pot pie with two 80-something-year-old women who regaled me all evening with tales of their own cross country adventures in the 1940s – bad ass.
As a Florida gal, I have picked many a things, like strawberries, tomatoes, avocados in my backyard, the works. However, I had never before had the experience of strolling through a sprawling orchard, plucking the prettiest apples I could get my hands on. My host for this adventure was Marie, a charming woman who makes some amazing apple butter from scratch. She drove Dena and I to the Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard on the outskirts of Hendersonville, and I was immediately in heaven.
The property boasts plump bodies of apple trees that sweep across the land for as far as the eye can see. The friendly women who worked at the orchard armed us with a map of the different apple varieties, and pointed us in the direction of the best pickings before setting us lose amongst the trees.
It was hard to control myself from snatching up every apple in sight, but Marie taught me the delicate process behind picking prime produce. Apparently, you should look for a flattened bottom to indicate a good apple – but honestly, I just went for the fruit that called out to me for whatever reason. Some were shiny, some had robust colors that couldn’t be ignored, and some were just too cute not to take home.
I was enchanted by the rows of apple trees, and the slightly rotten scent of fermenting apple flesh that wafted from the hoards of discarded fruit left abandoned beneath each tree. All was not lost though, as further investigation underneath one of the trees revealed that the lumps of fallen apples were being voraciously devoured by swarms of bees.
My woven basket was soon filled with all sorts of apples. My favorites are the little Galas, which can easily be eaten within a few bites if you’re not willing to commit to the idea of a big apple. Then there were the Jonagolds, a few Empires, and then the ultimate apple, my lone Honey Crisp. I had never tasted a Honey Crisp before coming to Hendersonville, but after just one bite into one I was hooked. It is hands down the best apple variety I have ever tasted – but alas, it was too late in the season to pick any, according to the orchard worker. I scoured the barren row of Honey Crisp trees in desperate search of overlooked treasure, and with my luck I was able to snag the final apple from one of the trees.
After satisfactorily loading myself up with a hoard of apples, we returned to the main orchard store to cash in our winnings. What I thought would surely be a fortune’s worth of apples miraculously only cost $5.00 – at a price like that, I could happily pick all my produce. I also stocked up on dehydrated apple rings made on the farm, and a few bottles of homemade cider.
The apples withstood crossing six state lines, a few nights of camping, funky changes in the weather, and a few other mishaps before making their way home to Denver. I offered my basket as a ‘thanks for letting me crash on your couch forever’ gift for the lovely men here in Colorado – and naturally I gave my beloved Honey Crisp to McGoo to try. He was skeptical about my musings at first, but after a few bites he admitted that it was in fact the best apple he has ever tasted.
As my travels in North Carolina come to a close, I have to once again thank everyone in this beautiful state who hosted me, fed me, took me on adventures, and made my trip amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and can hardly express my love for all of you. What a blessed little vagabond I am.