From hand-tied fishing lures to moonshine lore, Appalachia embodies a colorful culture all its own.
The Blue Ridge Mountains, the spine of southernmost Appalachia, are gently rolling as ranges go. Some of the oldest mountains in the world, the Blue Ridge and its famous scenic parkway are a source of much of the region's beauty, character—and even cuisine.
Though the autumn trees are best known for their leaf displays, they also burst forth with fruit like apples and pears. The fields, not to be outdone by the hills, brim with pumpkins and produce. Ramps, perennial wild onions with a powerfully pungent scent, are another Appalachian food tradition increasingly coveted by top-tier chefs.
Add to that summer berries, plentiful native trout and abundance from farm and field, and Appalachia has a recipe for culinary richness to rival that of its views.
Whip up your own Appalachian fall foods with recipes for apple stack cake, cast iron-cooked trout with smoked grits or blueberry buttermilk tart.
The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) devotes itself wholeheartedly to fostering the area’s local-food movement. For the last two decades, the nonprofit group has carried out this mission by helping local farms thrive, linking food growers with buyers and generally creating a healthier community through these connections and continued civic engagement. In providing area farmers with the necessary tools — whether it be promotional materials, research support, networking or grants — and then making what those farmers have to offer accessible to consumers, ASAP has sustained a model that works to enable a truly responsive food system to form.
Family farms abound in and around Asheville—and Fairview's bucolic Hickory Nut Gap is as family as they come. Both Hickory Nut Gap and the adjacent Flying Cloud Farms sit on land settled in 1916 by Jim and Elizabeth McClure. Five generations of their descendants have since farmed the property.
Hickory Nut Gap offers pumpkin picking during the harvest season, plus a hay bale maze and an opportunity to meet piglets, ponies, calves and goats. A farm store carries local ice cream and cider, farm eggs and both fresh and cured meat.
See more of what Asheville has to offer on the farm front by checking out the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Farm Tour, a self-guided driving tour of community food producers and small family farms, which takes place in late September. Any time of the year, download ASAP's "Appalachian Grown" app to locate local farms.
In Asheville and the surrounding areas, artisan cheese is abundant and increasingly appreciated. To help spread the word, local cheese-makers created the WNC Cheese Trail. A newly released map helps cheese cravers find hot spots like Looking Glass Creamery, which has a tiny tasting room full of big-flavored cheeses (and a patio with a lovely view). Or visit English Farmstead Cheese in Marion, where you can buy cheese made from the family cows from a quaint storefront. Many of the creameries also sell their wares at local tailgate markets across the region.
From the NC Apple Festival to u-pick farms, harvest time means apples abound in WNC. Henderson County is North Carolina's apple mecca with 28 farms, many of which allow visits. Besides apples, expect to find baked goods, cider, hayrides and other harvest-time festive fun.
A bit farther afield in Spruce Pine, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 328, The Orchard at Altapass is part Appalachian cultural center, part apple bonanza. There you'll find 280 acres rich with heirloom apples (ripe for the picking in late summer), mountain music, story-telling hayrides and late-fall apple butter (jars of which make perfect souvenirs for those left behind in the low country).
Nearly 100 tailgate markets can be found in the Southern Appalachians—and a whopping 20 of them are located in the greater Asheville area. Shop at one of these many markets and odds are you'll be shopping alongside chefs from the best Asheville restaurants. Eateries like Tupelo Honey Cafe, Lexington Avenue Brewery and The Market Place are only a few of the many places you can nosh on farm fresh food.
Though some close in November, plenty of holiday and indoor markets remain open, offering timeless (and season-less) Appalachian products like meats, cheese and crafts. Throughout autumn, tailgates and roadside stands are stocked with edible and decorative gourds, fall harvest arrangements and wreaths, various vegetables and more than enough jarred and packaged goods for stocking stuffers and Appalachian gifts.
Visit the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's website to find tailgate markets, farm stands and holiday markets—all the better to enjoy the bounty of the harvest.
Asheville is known as the Paris of the South for its galleries, cafes and world-class food scene. Get an insider's view to the city's many farm-to-table restaurants through some of the local walking tours. There's Eating Asheville, created by two local restaurant veterans, offering tours from the basic to the posh (with five whole drink pairings). The newly minted Dishcrawl tours four to eight restaurants, depending on your appetite, all within walking distance of each other. In a sipping and sitting mood? Try Brews Cruise, which wheels you around the area's bevy of breweries. You did know Asheville is Beer City USA, didn't you?
Asheville is also Bee City USA. The area loves its pollinators, which make possible up to two-thirds of what we eat. Wild Mountain Bees is a bee-centric store offering local honey, beekeeping needs and honey-based beauty products. It also has demonstrations geared toward both the advanced and aspiring beekeeper. For a different honey experience, visit the WNC Farmers Market, which is brimming with honey and other locally made products (and boasts gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains).
Local foragers like Alan Muskat, featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, know how to find forest delicacies like morel and chanterelle mushrooms. April through October, Muskat runs the Wild Foods Market, selling fungus and other edibles culled from the woods. He's also keen to teach amateurs the ways of the wild. Muskat regularly runs foraging expeditions, tailor-made to explore everything from backwoods hollers to the grand fields of the Biltmore Estate, according to your whims.
If mushrooms aren't quite your speed, Appalachian woods burst with berries—wine berries, blueberries, black raspberries and more—from June through first frost. Visit the Long Branch Educational Center to find these fruits and others available for the picking.
In the mountains of Asheville, fall harvest hiking is tough to beat, and the Blue Ridge Parkway offers numerous trails on which to leaf peep. But harvest season also means an abundance of trout in the Nantahala River, which is stocked with rainbow, brook and brown trout in the early fall. Trout require cold, clean water, so the mountains streams around Asheville provide the perfect environment. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has plenty of information about local trout, as well as how to get licensed.
No time for fishing? Visit Sunburst Trout Farms in Canton, where three generations of trout farmers have raised some of the best freshwater trout in the Southeast in water flowing from the Shining Rock Wilderness of Pisgah National Forest. The farm, which has a retail store offering everything from cold-smoked, gravlax-style trout to trout jerky, is open for visitors several days a week.
Looking for an authentic Appalachian agrarian antiques? The Apple County Antique Engine and Tractor Association shows off old-timey tractors, corn milling, blacksmithing and other hallmarks of the old-school farm experience during Fall Harvest Days at WNC Agricultural Center.
The Biltmore Estate's Vanderbilt family has a rich farming legacy, too. Those traditions are still alive today, and the Farm in Antler Hill Village on the Estate boasts a historic barn, plus woodworkers, craft demonstrations and a farmyard full of friendly animals.
Where there's corn, you're bound to find corn mazes. The Eliada Annual Corn Maze twists through 12 acres of corn fields with a hay-bale trail geared toward younger kids. Corn cannons, a corn-kernel sandbox and pumpkin patches round out the family-friendly farm fun. Taylor Ranch also hosts corn mazes in autumn on its working horse and cattle ranch.
Speaking of pumpkins, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad in Bryson City hosts Peanuts Express, where kids can listen to a narration of a classic Peanuts tale while they ride the rails to pick a pumpkin and meet Snoopy and the gang.