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Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9632

Bobbing for Apples: A Tasty Autumn Tradition

Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9632

October 5, 2022

minute read

Bobbing for apples is a fun way to celebrate the autumn season and Halloween with healthy treats. Traditionally, pre-washed apples are placed in a tub of water and each person tries to chomp into a fruit in hopes of snagging a tasty treat. More recently, the threat of spreading germs in the pursuit of a fruit floating in water has inspired new versions of bobbing for apples. For example, apples can be suspended from above with a string with each participant biting into their own designated treat.

A trip to a local orchard or farm market before the game adds to the fun. Some of the Missouri-grown apples harvested during October are Braeburn, Fuji, Arkansas Black, Granny Smith, Mutsu, Rome, Stayman Winesap, and York. Many other apples, including Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Envy, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious are also available at local grocers.

child on left and adult on right bobbing for apples in metal tub

Bobbing for apples is a fun fall tradition for young and old.

Bobbing for apples originated long ago during courting in Great Britain. Each of the floating apples represented a potential husband. If it only took one try for a young woman to successfully bite into an apple, it meant that she was destined to be joined in matrimony with her desired mate. However, if it took her two attempts to retrieve an apple, it meant that her love interest would court her, but their relationship would eventually be ill-fated. Sadly, if it took three or more tries to snag an apple, their marriage was not meant to be.

Several other versions of apple bobbing evolved from the original game. For example, in one variant, the first one to retrieve a fruit would be the first to find her love and marry. Another version included a bit of repose after the game. After bobbing for an apple, it was placed underneath a pillow at night, and the future spouse would be revealed in the young woman's dream. Later, the game evolved in Scotland and Ireland, where a young lass would first bob for her apple and then peel it. Next, the peel was twirled above her head three times and thrown over her shoulder, where upon landing, its shape would reveal the first initial of her future husband.

On left, woman throwing apple peel. On right, apple peel on wood surface

In a Scottish courting tradition, a young lass twirls an apple peel three times over her head, tosses it over her shoulder, and the peel shape forms the initial of her future spouse.

In other Celtic traditions, a festival known as Samhain was celebrated at the end of the harvest season, which included bobbing for apples. As Irish emigrants came to America, they practiced traditions and celebrations from their previous homeland. As apples were picked in the fall and available for bobbing thereafter, this game was eventually adopted by others and morphed into a Halloween tradition.

In addition to bobbing for apples, there are many other apple-type games for young and old, including races and relays that involve passing an apple to others by various means or balancing the fruit on a person's head until they reach their destination without dropping it. Also, apples can be used as a substitute in cake walks, musical chairs, relays, and tossing games. These ideas and more apple activities can be found online at: https://www.thespruce.com/apple-party-games-4106985.

man and woman bitting on the same apple face to face

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REVISED: October 5, 2022