Ask most teachers what they need in order to feel appreciated and apples likely won’t be high on the list. Despite this, the association between educators and the fruit persists in back-to-school commercials and classroom decorations. So where did the idea of gifting an apple to a teacher come from, and did they ever truly invite this gesture?
According to Dictionary.com, this all-American tradition may have originated in Scandinavia. Teachers in Denmark and Sweden in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were paid even worse then than they are today. Because many teachers were single women, the students’ families were responsible for keeping them housed and fed. That meant a basket of produce like apples was more than a token of appreciation—it some cases, it was payment.
This practice continued in America, where the apple was a valuable commodity. Cider was the default beverage in the colonies, as it was cheaper to produce than other alcoholic drinks and often safer to consume than water. Apples were a popular bartering item, so it wasn’t unusual to see parents paying their kids’ teachers with the fruit.
Teaching wages eventually became high enough to live on, and full bushels were replaced with single apples that teachers could display on their desks. The fact that the beginning of the school year coincided with the start of the harvest season contributed to the crop’s popularity as a gift for teachers throughout the 19th century.
Though the idea persists in pop culture, teachers rarely receive apples from their students on the first day of school in modern times. If you’re looking for a way to show your appreciation for your teacher, here are some gifts you’ll find outside the produce aisle.