Monday, October 25, 2021

Halloween Apples

Apples have long been linked to Halloween. Games using apples, such as apple bobbing, are often played on the holiday. Candy apples and caramel apples are often served as treats during the holiday. There are few fruits more associated with Halloween than the apple.

Of course, this makes sense. In both Europe and North America, September marks the height of the apple harvest, so that they would be readily available in October. And while there is not substantial evidence that apples played a role in the Celtic festival called in Modern Irish Samhain and in Scottish Gaelic Saimhainn, its status in Celtic mythology makes it quite possible that it did. A silver apple branch plays a role in both the Irish poem Imram Bran and the Irish narrative Echtra Cormaic. Among the many myths about the king of Munster Cú Roí is that after he was killed by Cú Chulainn, his soul is hidden in an apple in the stomach of a salmon living in a stream in the Slieve Mish Mountains. Among the mythical islands of Irish mythology is Emain Ablach, which has been interpreted as "Island of the Apples" by some. There are several other Irish myths including apples, so it seems quite possible that apples played a role in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain and hence traditions regarding apples made their way into the Christian holiday of Halloween.

One claim on how apples became tied to Halloween that seems unlikely is that Romans in Britain brought the worship of Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees and orchard,  and her festival influenced the festival of Samhain or Samhainn. This seems highly unlikely. First, it must be considered that Pomona was honoured in conjunction with her consort Vertumnus at the festival Vertumnalia around August 13, about a month and a half before the Celtic festival of Samhain. Second, it must also be considered the most of our traditions regarding Halloween come from Scotland with some in put from Ireland. The Romans never conquered, let alone occupied what would become known as Scotland or Ireland. It then seems likely that the worship of Pomona was unknown in Pagan Scotland and Pagan Ireland.  If apples are a significant part of Halloween, it seems likely that it is because they were significant to the Celts whose holiday of Samhain may have influenced many Halloween traditions.

Regardless, apples would play a part in games played at Halloween, perhaps the best known of which is bobbing for apples, known as "dooking" in Scotland and "apple ducking" or "duck-apple" in Northern England. Like many traditions observed at Halloween, apple bobbing appears to have originally been divinatory in nature. According to the most basic variation on apple bobbing, the first person to bite into an apple would be the first to marry. In another variation, the names of unmarried persons would either be carved into the apples or written on a piece of paper attached to the apples stems. Biting into an apple would then reveal the name of the person one was meant to marry. Of course, as time wore on, apple bobbing would simply be performed for fun, and it would cease to be divinatory in nature.

Another bit of fortune telling involving apples that was performed at Halloween was the counting of apple seeds. An apple was cut in two  and its core removed. The number of seeds would then foretell the coming year. The meaning between any given seeds tended to vary from place to place, but an example is that one seed meant one would be lonely, two seeds meant that one would marry, and so on.

A potentially more dangerous game than apple bobbing or counting apple seeds was Snap-Apple. In one variation of the game, an apple was placed at one end of a stick and a lit candle at the other end. The stick was then suspended from its middle and twirled. The goal of the blindfolded players was to bite into the apple while avoiding biting into the candle. A much safer version of Snap-Apple involved simply attached apples to strings and then the blindfolded players would try to bite into them. At one time Snap-Apple was significant enough that in some places Halloween was called "Snap-Apple Night."

Of course, apples have always been consumed at Halloween. Curiously, candy apples are a relatively recent development. It was in 1908 that at Christmastime candy maker William Kolb was trying out various recipes in  his shop. It occurred to him to dip apples into cinnamon candy boiling on a stove. William Kolb sold the candy apples in his shop and they proved to be a hit. While he originally made them at Christmas, they would become associated with Halloween.

It is quote possible today that caramel apples are better known than candy apples. And while caramel apples were certainly developed after candy apples, it is difficult to say when. The 1920 edition of the book Rigby's Reliable Candy Teacher includes a recipe in which apples were dipped in a mixture of Molasses Taffy and other ingredients. While not exactly the same as caramel apples, it would be quite similar. It seems possible that at some point some candy maker simply substituted caramel for molasses taffy. Regardless, it was in 1948 that Affy Taple out of Chicago offered its first caramel apple. It was in the 1950s that Dan Walker of Kraft Food developed his own method of creating caramel apples while experimenting with caramel candy left over from Halloween. While Affy Taple's claim to the caramel apple pre-dates Kraft's claim, Kraft did provided individuals at home with an easy way of making their own caramel apples. Regardless, it was in 1960 that Vito Raimondi of Chicago invented the first automated caramel apple machine.

Apples have played a significant role at Halloween for centuries, so much so that they form part of the popular culture surrounding the holiday. Irish artist Daniel Maclise's painting "Snap-Apple Night" from 1933 portrays apple bobbing. In Agatha Christie's novel Hallowe'en Party, a young woman is drowned in an apple bobbing tub. There is also a scene involving apple bobbing in the classic animated television special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Candy apples and caramel apples are still treats to be enjoyed at Halloween. Whatever the origins of the fruit's link to the holiday, it is safe to say people will be enjoying apples at Halloween for years to come.

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