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In this series, we reveal the secrets, histories and quirky bits of trivia behind your favorite foods.
Candy apples—not to be confused with their cousins, caramel apples—are closely tied with county fairs, apple harvest festivals and Halloween. So it may come as a surprise that these sticky treats were actually invented for the Christmas season—and were not intended to be eaten. (Though, if you've ever tried to eat one of the unwieldy treats, that part makes sense.)
Candy maker William W. Kolb is credited with inventing the first candy apple in Newark, New Jersey in 1908. Kolb was experimenting with red cinnamon candy to sell at Christmastime and decided that apples would be an effective and alluring way to showcase his sweet and spicy confection. He dipped apples on sticks into the red glaze and displayed them in his shop window as a way of enticing potential customers. But instead of selling the candies, he ended up selling the apples themselves for five cents each to passerby who thought the display looked, literally, good enough to eat. Kolb realized that the sweet fruits could be popular in their own right and began churning them out, and they quickly became a crowd favorite at circuses and on the Jersey Shore. Candy apples also became fashionable to give out to trick-or-treaters during Halloween in the early 1900s and remained so until the 1960s and '70s, when urban legends about hidden needles and razor blades cast them out of favor.
The shiny red orbs also created a somewhat unexpected (and inedible) trend: a racy new color for nail polishes, lipsticks and cars called—you guessed it—Candy Apple Red.
For delicious apple desserts to last through fall and beyond, check out these recipes.