Apples have a long been associated with Halloween and used as part of Halloween celebrations. This association can be traced to the ancient Celts who believed apples had magical and healing properties. In Celtic mythology Avalon or the Isle of Apples is the Otherworld where fairies and the dead reside. The boundary to this world being particularly thin at Samhain (Halloween). Also, apples native to Britain and Northern Europe are harvested in October, so they would have been in abundance during the Samhain feasts.
Apples also played a part in the "Dumb Supper", a silent Feast of the Dead given on Samhain Eve. Families would set a place at the head of the table for their ancestors and would remain silent throughout the entire meal. When the meal was over, the leftover food would be ceremonially taken outside for the spirits to consume on Halloween night.
In recent years it has been suggested that Halloween apple traditions can be attributed to the Romans, who may have combined the Celtic festival of Samhain with their festival of Pomona. Pomona was goddess of fruits and the harvest and her symbol was the apple. For the Romans apples were also symbolic of love and fertility. However, some historians argue that Pomona was only a minor deity with a very small following. Yet there does seem to be some merging of beliefs, particularly in the aspect of Halloween fortune telling games that involved predictions of love and marriage.
Apple Fortune Telling Games
One game involved peeling an apple on Halloween night, either the length of the peel would tell you how long you would live or, if you looked in a mirror and threw the peel over your left shoulder, the shape the peel would form would be the first letter of the person you were going to marry. As shown in the postcard below.
Another game involved sticking apple seeds to your forehead. Each of the seeds would be named and the seed to fall off first told you which one was an untrue lover.
Another game involved predicting the profession of your future spouse, by counting the number of seeds in an apple, a version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor. Each number symbolized a particular job:
1 - Rich man
2 - Poor man
3 - Beggar man
4 - Thief
5 - Doctor
6 - Lawyer
7 - Merchant
8 - Chief and then the numbers repeated.
The most recognizable apple games that are part of modern-day Halloween celebrations tend not to include a fortune telling element.
Bobbing for Apples
How to play:
- Fill a large bowl or tub with water and drop in 10 or more large apples.
- Either place the bowl on the floor or on a table, with lots of towels and tissues to protect your floor or furniture.
- Each player must kneel or bend over the bowl and with their hands tied behind their back they must try and grab an apple with their teeth.
An alternative to Bobbing for Apples is Snap Apple, which is basically the same except the apples are vertical instead of horizontal.
How to play:
- First tie long pieces of string to the stalks of the apples and then attach the other ends to a long pole.
- Suspend the the pole horizontally from a ceiling or have a couple of people holding the pole at each end.
- Each player, with their hands tied behind their back must try and grab the apple with their teeth.
There were a couple of variations of this game that also combined a fortune telling element. They were played during the nineteenth and early twentieth century and sound pretty dangerous. One involved hanging the apples from a hoop which also had bread, cakes, peppers, sweets and candles hung from it as well. The hoop was suspended from the ceiling and then swung around and each player had to grab at an object with their teeth. What each player bit into determined what their married life would be like. Bread symbolized wholesomeness, cakes softness, peppers acid, candles fiery tempers and sweets sweetness.
Another game involved tying an apple to the end of a stick and a bag of flour to the other end. The stick was then hung from the ceiling on a string. Two players, standing at opposite ends of the stick had to try a bite the apple whilst avoiding being hit by the bag of flour. A variation of this was using a lighted candle instead of the bag of flour, each player had to either blow out the candle or bite the apple. As seen in the postcard below.
|Snap Apple variation|
Candy Apples, Caramel Apples or Toffee Apples are probably the most well known of Halloween apple traditions and Halloween treats. They are apples that have been coated or rolled in a sugar, toffee or caramel mixture. Below is a basic recipe.
- 10 apples
- 10 wooden skewers or lolly pop sticks
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1 1/2 cups soft brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- Insert the wooden skewers into the stalks of each apple and line a baking tray.
- Dissolve the sugar in the water on a moderate heat. When completely dissolved stir in the vinegar, butter and syrup and bring to the boil.
- Boil for 12 minutes, without stirring. Test to see that the mixture has reached the hard crack stage, either by inserting a sugar thermometer and waiting until it reads 138C, or by taking a bit of the mixture and dropping it in cold water and seeing whether it hardens into a ball.
- Dip the apples, about 2/3 up, into the syrup mixture and leave to rest for about 15 minutes on the lined baking tray.