In Little House in the Big Woods, Ma receives a clove apple from her sister-in-law for Christmas. Laura writes, “Aunt Eliza had brought Ma a large red apple stuck full of cloves. How good it smelled! And it would not spoil, for so many cloves would keep it sound and sweet.”
A clove apple is a wonderful present, because it works exactly the way that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes it: it smells wonderful, it won’t rot, and the stem provides the perfect place to tie a serviceable piece of twine or a fancy ribbon to hang your clove apple in a closet or hallway.
To make a clove apple of your own, you will need:
- An apple, free of bruises or cuts, with the stem attached.
- Plenty of cloves. I buy my cloves in bulk from a restaurant supply store, but your local co-op natural grocery also stocks them in smaller quantities.
- Bamboo skewer
- Twine or ribbon
- Strong glue
For the clove apple to keep, the cloves must be stuck all over the apple, quite close together. They don’t need to be touching each other, but you can’t make pretty designs or otherwise leave blank spots on your apple and expect it to last. However, you can make pretty designs with the cloves if you only want the apple for the season- through your spectacular Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps, to then be composted with the other leftovers.
While it’s possible to stick the cloves straight into the apple, this can be tiresome and it’ll cramp your fingers after a while. Additionally, small children lack the strength in their little finger muscles to pull off this part of what is otherwise an accessible activity for them.
Instead, use a bamboo skewer to poke several holes at a time in your apple, then stick the cloves stem-first into those holes. It’s easier on your fingers and I think that it makes the work go faster.
If you are creating a design on your apple with cloves, you can first draw the design right onto the apple using a fine-point Sharpie in a light color; as you place the cloves, place them end-to-end to completely obscure the pen marks.
As soon as you’re finished, go ahead and tie your twine or ribbon to the apple’s stem. I reinforced my knot with glue, because I don’t really need the trouble of a clove apple suddenly bonking itself down onto my head someday.
In opposition to popular usage, we didn’t hang our clove apples in our closets; I didn’t really want ALL of our clothes to smell like we’d been smoking clove cigarettes. Instead, I hung them in cool, dry nooks all around the house, so that as you walk down the hallway, say, or snuggle on the couch to read bedtime stories, you can suddenly get a whiff of that sweet, comforting, handmade clove perfume.