Why toffee with apple, and other Halloween traditions explained

Oh, sweet Halloween. We’ve been waiting to get sexy with you since last October. Netflix has released a new batch of horror films. Halloween candy has become a breakfast staple. We no longer have to explain why we’re wearing a vampire cape while shopping for loo roll. Oh yeah baby, come and rattle my bones.

But not everyone’s a Halloween fan. In an unscientific survey of the first 10 people we could find, it seems 70% of the world doesn’t care much for toffee apples. So why does a perfectly pleasant fruit become drenched to inedibility every year?

# Halloween tradition 1

Toffee apples

Fair enough, they’re a dubious joy.. Don’t expect a bounty of toffee flavours like the homemade stuff your Aunt would make. The toffeeness is merely a reference to the boiled sugar, minus the dairy ingredients that...well...make toffee nice. The US doesn’t even use the word ‘toffee’, replaced by the more accurate yet sinister sounding ‘candy’ apple (but only because anything with a reference to candy reminds us of Candyman and needing to sleep in your parents bed for a week.)

Caramel apples

It’s all the fault of one William W Kolb; a real-life Willy Wonka but with a slightly less amusing surname. Frustrated with the progress of his new cinnamon candy potion, he decided to take a break with an apple in hand. Said apple having dropped into said potion, Kolb knew exactly what to do. Some cheap polypropylene wrapping and a cute little ribbon later, the toffee apple was born. Kids loved them. Dentists despaired. Kids won.

Trick or Treat Mick and Tel
To keep socially distanced, you may want to check out Tel's latest invention the Treatmaster 3000

# Halloween tradition 2

Trick or treating

OBack when Halloween was just finding its feet in the UK 2,000 years ago, people would dress themselves in dead (hopefully) animal skin to ward off unwelcome visitors and ease the passage of their loved ones to the mythical land of Samhain.

Later generations liked the dressing up bit, but the whole dealing with the undead was a bit too creepy. So instead young women would go door-to-door doing tricks with yarn, fruit and mirrors.

Impressed fellas would be bagged as husbands, was the plan. It’s hardly the stuff of Derren Brown, and nor does a decent sleight of hand seem the basis for committing to a lifelong relationship…but then we gave history “Married At First Sight”. So glass houses n’ all that.

# Halloween tradition 3

Pumpkin carving

“Away to bed or the Jack-O’-Lantern will have you,” was the inappropriate warning of rural Irish parents to their petrified children. Mr O’Lantern - street name Stingy Jack - was doomed to roam the Earth with only a hollowed turnip to light his way, having come out second best in a bit of a to-do with the Devil. Never wise.

Turnip became pumpkin; and every year since, the little hollowed heads light up while pumpkin baked goods fail to capture the imagination.

Scary halloween pumpkin

The truth behind Stingy Jack is a naturally occurring phenomenon where fluorescent gas is emitted from peat bogs at night. But why let a bit of hard science get in the way of giving your kids mild trauma.

Game of apple bobbing
# Halloween tradition 4

Bobbing apples

Increasingly skeptical that rubbish magic was the way to find true love, the early 1900s saw unmarried ladies go bobbing for apples instead. Once out of the water, the apple would be peeled in one strip (not with their teeth, we presume), thrown over the shoulder, and land in the shape of the letter of the young chap they were destined to wed.

So, immediately we see a few problems with this idea...

# Halloween tradition 5

Nut cracking

October is a mental time for nuts. They’re falling off trees and conking on heads everywhere. And where there’s nuts, there’s a shit game to be played. Like nut cracking. Just sit a couple in an open fire and see which cracks first. Or hisses. Or glows.

By all accounts, Robbie Burns was mad into a night of “The Oracle of The Nuts”, as they called it back then. All sorts of predictions could be made from the winning nut; impending fortune or the arrival of a new lover.

Nut cracking this Halloween

Other times a lone nut would expose a cheating spouse or the presence of a dead relative. Alas the arrival of central heating put an end to fire-induced nut cracking. Our loss.

Halloween the movie

#Halloween tradition 6

Halloweenathon

The movies. All nine of them. And the two they’re going to make. In a dark room, with only a creaking rocking chair, in a cabin, in a deserted wood. By yourself. With no electricity or phone signal. The nearest village is at least five miles away. Beyond a deserted asylum. If you get past the bogland. Where the ravaged skeletons of no-longer definable animals squelch up from their watery graves.

Some traditions are waiting to be made! And if you’re sick of Halloween (the movies), there are other films to keep you shivering through the night. Just check our list of top 5 horror films.

So what have we learned about this deathly festival of Halloween? Well, you can be shit scared of it and hibernate until November rescues you. Or you can take a happier approach. Just like with death itself.