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clove apple / clove-apple

clove. A very pungent aromatic spice, the unexpanded flower-bud of the clove-tree, Caryophyllus aromaticus, a native of the Molucca Isles. — Webster, 1882

apple. A well-known fruit-tree of the genus Pyrus; the apple-tree. The European crab-apple is supposed to be the original kind, from which all others have sprung.

As a small boy I remember that people used to sometimes to decorate the mantels of… “the parlor” with what used to be known as “clove-apple.” It was an apple plugged to repletion with cloves… What the apple was good for after it was plugged with cloves, what the cloves were good for after they had done their deadly plugging, and what the combination was good for, from the point of view of either culinary or aesthetic art, I never knew and never since have learned. – The Indiana School Journal, February 1900.

Cloves are the tiny dried flower buds and stems of a member of the myrtle family (Syzygium aromaticum), picked just when the bud loses its green color and starts to turn pink. They become the characteristic brown color when dried. A native of the Spice Islands (the Mollucas) of Indonesia, clove trees can grow to forty feet or more in height and take twenty years before they start producing flowers. They require constant warmth and high humidity. The name clove comes from the Latin clavus, meaning nail, and the hard buds and stems are nail-like in shape.

Clove apples and Christmas seem to have always gone together. Maybe it’s because by December, apples have lost their novelty and can be spared for decorative purposes, and cloves are handy because they’re a popular spice in fall and wintertime baking and preserving. In Little House in the Big Woods, Eliza Ingalls brings her sister, Caroline Ingalls, a clove apple as a Christmas gift. Laura later notices a clove apple on Grandma Ingalls’ bedside table; perhaps Eliza made one for her mother as well?

To make a clove apple, you’ll need a firm, non-bruised unpeeled apple – and hundreds and hundreds of cloves. Buy the best cloves you can find, with firm buds and long, thick stems. Cheaper spices will have few with buds, and many stems will be broken and useless for this craft. Prepare your work area before beginning. The poked apple will leave sticky juice on hands and work surface, and bits of clove bud will flake off, so it’s best to work over a towel, with the cloves poured onto a plate for ease in picking them up, one-by-one.

You can start anywhere on the apple: just hold a clove gently by the bud end and poke the stem into the apple until it’s flush with the apple skin. Poke the next clove as close as you can to the first, and cover the entire surface of the apple. If you prefer, you can only cover stripes or concentric circles with cloves, although a fully-covered apple will last longer. Oranges are also popular for studding with cloves, but you’ll need to first pierce the tough skin with the point of a wooden skewer or toothpick before adding each clove.

Once the apple is completely covered, set it aside to dry. The cloves act as hundreds of tiny wicks that draw the juice from the apple. The juice evaporates, and as the apple dehydrates, the cloves are held firmly in place by the dried flesh, or exocarp. Air circulation is important. Don’t place the apple on a sunny window sill or any place that ants are liable to find it. Turn the apple daily until until thoroughly dry. Once dry, you can add a ribbon for hanging on the Christmas tree or display it on your what-not shelf or mantel.

A clove apple can last for decades under proper conditions. The photo shows a 21-year-old clove crab-apple (left) and a 18-year-old clove pear (right). The pear was picked up from the ground beneath a pear tree growing in front of the Wilders’ Rock House in Mansfield, Missouri, by Frank Cooley, son of On the Way Home‘s George Cooley. Frank and his wife and I were in Mansfield for Rocky Ridge Day that October, and the Cooleys picked and ate some of the pears (one of the tour guides told us that the Wilders had planted the pear tree). I flew across country with the pear and covered it with cloves for a keepsake.

Clove apples will retain their scent for years, but they can be refreshed with a drop or two of clove oil. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly.


clove apple / clove-apple (BW 4, 8)