Make an Apple Pomander Just Like Ma Ingalls

Get your Little House on and make an apple pomander – aka a clove apple – this fall. It smells amazing, and Ma Ingalls will be so proud!

A clove apple, or pomander

In Little House in the Big Woods, Ma receives an apple pomander 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.”

An apple pomander – aka 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

Poke cloves straight into the apple, or use a bamboo skewer to prepare holes.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.

The cloves should be quite close together, although not necessarily touching.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.

28 thoughts on “Make an Apple Pomander Just Like Ma Ingalls”

  1. I’ve always made pomanders with oranges, and use a fork to poke the holes. I’ve heard of making them with other citrus fruits, but never with apples — I’ll have to try this!

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  3. We used to do this with oranges. I think we just set them in a dish, though, since oranges don’t usually come to us Yankees with a stem on them to provide a hanger.

  4. We used to do this with oranges. I think we just set them in a dish, though, since oranges don’t usually come to us Yankees with a stem on them to provide a hanger.

  5. Tiny tangerines work best. Cloves bought in the Hispanic section of markets in bags is inexpensive. Hang them on Christmas trees is nice also.

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    1. Were your apple, orange, and cloves organic? Were the fruits perfect to begin with–perfectly ripe, unblemished? Was the entire surface really and truly stuffed with cloves, or were there some blank spots? Did you give each one a little kiss when you were done and tell it that you loved it? I don’t know if that would be the problem, but you definitely did something wrong, because my apple (and Ma Ingalls’!) are still nicely preserved.

  8. I have found granny smith apples with whole cloves work well. I cover the entire apple with the cloves. As it dries it shrinks a little bit. Cloved apples last for years unlike the oranges.

  9. Can you make these in the summer in an air-conditioned house? Everyone says “December.”
    Cloves are sooo expensive. I hope I can find a place where they are cheap.
    Some people cover them with net. That looks pretty.
    I remember making these with my mom when I was four. I’ll be 70 on April 4 th. (Powerful memory)

    1. I don’t see why you couldn’t make them in the summer! I admit that it’s only ever occurred to me to make clove apples in the winter, but I do so in my heated house, which can’t be too dissimilar in temperature from your air conditioned house in summer. I’m a wimp, too, so it’s probably actually WARMER in my house in winter.

      I’ve had the best success purchasing cloves from big warehouse stores that stock the giant spice bottles. I’ve seen big containers of cloves, for instance, at Sam’s Club and GFS, and I’d be surprised if they’re not at Costco. People don’t always use up their spices, though, so I wonder if your community has a Freecycle forum? You can Google for it, and if it does, you can request cloves there, and if anyone has an old, half-used container lying around that they’d like to get rid of, they’ll just give it to you!

  10. Just made an lemon one with cloves, covered it with spices now it has to dry. I’m doing this in our summer on December 31st . The lemon on my hands smell devine,. Now it’s wait and hope it preserves in stead of going rotten, xxx

  11. My daughter and I saw this in the book as well which brought me to this page. Should be a good gift for her mother. I’m guessing that a smaller apple would be best in regards to preservation since the clove to apple ratio would be higher.

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  15. When I was a child, I remember visits to my Grandma’s house. I used to stare up in amazement at this clove apple on a glass pedestal that she said was given to her by a male suitor when she was 17 years old. Before she passed, she gave it to me – her favorite grandchild, she said, and the only one who seemed fascinated by this apple. I still have it today, prominently displayed in my China cabinet. It is 94 years old and is perfectly preserved! I wish I could attach a photo!

  16. I made my pomander with apples and completely covered with cloves and I still have it and it’s been well over ten years. It still smells great and it is very solid.

  17. I have a cloved apple that my grandmother made. It still has a good shape and and when I open the box I can smell the cloves. Grandmother was a young girl and I’m guessing she made it it around 1910 or so. My question is how can I preserve it.

  18. Hi. I do this with an esrog, which is a citrus fruit. Question: When I push the clove in the head tends to break. How can I protect clove heads? Thank you.

    1. If I had to guess, I’d say that maybe you’re pushing too hard on the clove head. They’re a little bit fragile, so I could see force or pressure causing them to break. What if you used a wooden skewer to poke a hole through the esrog’s skin that’s about the size of the clove stem? Then you could perhaps just slide the clove in without having to push too hard.

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