Editor's Note: This post has been updated for clarification.
When you think "apples," you probably picture cool October days and candied Halloween treats. But North Carolina apples are already beginning to come down from the mountains, and Slow Food Charlotte is collaborating with the Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG) to share the wealth. After a day picking heirloom apples in an historic orchard near Pilot Mountain, PCG member chefs will bring the fruits of their labors back to their kitchens, to the benefit of Charlotte-area diners.
It all started with a Slow Foods event last year featuring Lee Calhoun, whom member Steven Case describes as "the godfather of apples." A former professor of agronomy at N.C. State and author of 1995's Old Southern Apples, today Calhoun is responsible for a treasure trove of heirloom trees at Horne Creek Farm, a North Carolina Historic Site in Surry County. When the historic living farm established its orchard in 1997, the owners turned to Calhoun and his wife Edith, who grafted and planted 800 regionally distinct apple trees. Today the orchard serves as a sanctuary for 400 varieties that might otherwise be lost.
Members of the PCG who attended Calhoun's presentation at the Slow Foods regional meeting proposed a new connection between the orchard and Charlotte-area chefs specializing in Carolina-sourced ingredients. As a result, on Sept. 14, Slow Food and the PCG, along with students from the Art Institute of Charlotte, will make the two-hour trek to Horne Creek Farm to meet with Calhoun and pick apples from selected trees. Calhoun will describe the attributes of the various varieties and lead the group in some basic maintenance tasks in the orchard.
Slow Foods sees this as an important educational moment for chefs, but perhaps more exciting for Charlotte diners will be the opportunity to try some of these apples for themselves. Participating restaurants will feature them in specials the week of Sept. 15-21. These include local-food favorites such as The Asbury in Uptown, Block and Grinder in Myers Park, and Heirloom Restaurant in Coulwood, as well as the new Earl's Grocery on Elizabeth Avenue, Hot Box food truck, and the Artisan restaurant at the Art Institute of Charlotte.
Fittingly, the highlight of the celebration lands on the first day of fall. On Monday, Sept. 22, a Carolina Apple Days Feast will cap off the week with a "six-course apple-inspired adventure in dining" at Heirloom Restaurant. The dinner will feature dishes from chefs Clark Barlowe, Ben Philpott, Michael Bowling, Marc Jacksina and Gregory Collier, and proceeds will go to the PCG and the Lomax Incubator Farm in Cabarrus County.
It's not every day you see such a win-win-win in the local food world. Heirloom apples find an appreciative audience, chefs gain an exciting new source for local ingredients, and you and I get the opportunity to eat well. That's nothing to say "boo" at.
Those interested in ushering in the next season of Carolina flavors can make reservations for the final dinner by calling 704-595-7710. Tickets are $100; cocktails will be served at 6:30, with the first course scheduled to hit tables at 7:00.