November 18, 2013

Columnist shares favorite apple sayings

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — We’ve all heard, and probably use, sayings that involve apples.

“An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” is a common one. Did you know that it comes from the old English adage, “To eat an apple before going to bed, will make the doctor beg his bread”? I’ve been trying to come up with as many apple sayings as I can. You probably know a lot more, but these are my favorites:

“Don’t upset the apple cart.” We know this means not to cause a problem by trying to change a plan, but did you know it was first recorded by Jeremy Belknap in “The History of New Hampshire,” 1788? The quote reads, “Adams had almost overset the apple-cart by intruding an amendment of his own fabrication on the morning of the day of ratification” [of the Constitution].

According to the University of Illinois Extension, archaeologists have found evidence that humans have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C. That means there have been lots of years for them to come up with other apple-related sayings. 

How about, “comparing apples to oranges”? I don’t quite get this. I suspect it’s a dismissive way of telling someone they don’t know what they’re talking about. I am open to your suggestions on this one, readers.

“A bad apple spoils the barrel” is easy to understand by anyone who has kept a bowl of apples on the counter for too long. Or onions, for that matter. Rotten apples give off ethylene, which speeds the ripening of the other fruit. The phrase is most often used in relation to people. In 1736, Benjamin Franklin, in “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” wrote, “The rotten apple spoils his companion.” A more modern take on this might be the warning many parents give their children about being judged by the company they keep.

My all-time favorite apple saying is, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Over the years, this has morphed from suggesting the continuity of physical family characteristics like hair and eye color, including susceptibility to illnesses or disease, to failings being passed from parent to child. This phrase originated in Germany, and the first English version was by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a letter he wrote in 1839, saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the stem.” Emerson used it to describe the longing adults frequently have to return to their childhood home.

Author Tamar Myers, in her Pennsylvania Dutch mystery series, writes of Magdalena Yoder, a Mennonite who runs a bed and breakfast, offering her guests the “Amish” experience by charging them extra to make their own beds and clean their own rooms. Her sister, Susanna, who does not follow the Mennonite way of life, is a vexation to her. Her version of the apple quote is genius. Magdalena describes Susanna by saying, “In the case of my sister Susanna, the apple not only fell far from the tree, it rolled right out of the orchard.” You’ve got to love that image.

Speaking of apples, I am busy drying apple slices for my “Wreath Making with Natural Materials” workshop on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to noon in our Plattsburgh meeting room. This popular workshop brings out your creativity, even if you think you don’t have any. A grapevine wreath, pods, cones and a slew of natural materials are provided for you to use any way you choose to create a one-of-a-kind wreath for yourself or to give as a gift. The workshop is $23, which covers your materials. Space is limited. Bring a friend or make one at the workshop. Call 561-7450 or email me at to register.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or