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A.V. Club

Amuse Our Bouche: Why do we give an apple to the teacher?

Amuse Our Bouche is The A.V. Club’s column that answers your burning, boiling, and flambéed food questions.

As far as anybody can tell, the origin of American schoolchildren giving an apple to the teacher cannot be traced to one definitive moment or source. The tradition seems to have been born from practicality, then nurtured by happy coincidences working in concert sometime between 1880 and 1920, with an early-19th century prologue. To answer the question is to create the sort of messily insane, pieced-together timeline you see on police procedurals, its various dots connected with red string. It’s the kind of explanation that doesn’t make for the sort of satisfying trivia you can whip out for cocktail party small talk. But to investigate it is to delve deeply into our nation’s history and folklore.

This story begins with John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed—probably …

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