In September, on one of the hottest days of the year, we had a workshop on apple head dolls. It occurred to me that this would make a super fun activity for you and your kids this Halloween! It is also a great way to learn about additive and subtractive sculpture and the science behind the shrinking process (or dehydration). Water is drawn out of the apple into the salt solution through a process called osmosis. When the apple is left to dry out, the rest of the water is lost through evaporation.
Apple head dolls are also fun on a historical level. Toys and dolls were not always affordable or easily available for people to give to their kids. So when dolls were too expensive or the store was too far away, for Early American Settlers and Native Americans (no one is sure who made them first), to buy toys parents would make their children toys, like these apple head dolls.
- Firm, unbruised apple, preferably Granny Smith (bigger is better)
- Marker or pencil (optional)
- 1 cup lemon juice
- Stick or branch
- Knife (a butter knife will work just fine, even a plastic one)
- Vegetable peeler
- 1/2 cup of salt
- Several cups of water
- A popsicle stick or small branch
After your apple is dry:
- A second popsicle stick or small branch to make arms
- A Pipe cleaner to attach the arms
- Fabric scraps to make cloths
- Hot glue or strong glue dots (I love glue dots! Clean, quick and efficient.) to attach cloths
Peel and core the apple. The apple will shrink around the stick. (It is not strictly necessary to core the apple but it may help the drying process)
Use a pencil or marker to design the face (marker can be messy and it is best to use a permanent one. I like to carve my sketch in to the apple with a pencil better. Some people like to do a sketch on paper first. Draw facial features on your apple, including eyes, a nose, and a mouth; be sure to draw the features large enough so they won't vanish when the apple shrinks. The apple can do a presoak in the lemon juice salt solution before you carve it if you want to do a sketch on paper. This will prevent browning while you’re planning ahead.
Using the outlines as your guide, carve the apple in the solution to resemble a human head. You can put beads into the eye sockets as eyes if you want. Just push them into the apple flesh.
Combine lemon juice, salt and water in a bowl. Soak the apple in the solution for 30 minutes. Pat dry. If you want a browner appearance cut the time in half.
Set the apple in a warm, dry spot. After several days, the apple will shrink, and the features will distort. Put the Popsicle stick in the cored apple if you chose to core it. Make sure it does not stick out the top of the apple. I put the stick only a little over half way in. A twig or small branch can be substituted for the popsicle stick.
Once you have inserted the stick or branch into the bottom of the head, place the apple stick combo in a small vase.
Attach the arms stick to the body stick with the pipe cleaner making a cross.
Use the glue to attach the scraps of cloth to the sticks to make clothing.
What can go wrong?
If the room in which you leave the apple has too much moisture in the air, even though the salt takes a lot of moisture out of the apple, the salt that's left will attract more moisture from the air, if it's there. If enough moisture is attracted back into the apple, then it could get wet enough for mold to grow. It has happened to me once. If it gets moldy, you should throw it out and start over. Generally if you keep the apple where it is dry (not, say, the bathroom) it will turn out okay. Living in Southern California means generally dry air, so you should be safe.
The apple shrinks as it dries. First, water is drawn out of the apple into the salt solution through a process called osmosis. When the apple is left to dry out the rest of the water is lost through evaporation, leaving a gnarly, wrinkled head like ball.
You may ask why the apple turns brown. Here is what I found to answer that question and here is where I found it;
“When an apple is cut open, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase is released from the cells of the apple and reacts with the oxygen in the air. This reaction causes the fruit to turn brown, similar to rust forming on metal. Almost all plants contain polyphenol oxidase, and it is believed plants use this enzyme as part of a defense mechanism. When a plant is damaged, the browning of the affected area is thought to discourage animals and insects from eating the plant any further. It also might help the plant heal because the browning creates an antibacterial effect, preventing germs from destroying the plant even more.
Lemon juice helps keep the apple from browning, because it is full of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and it has a low (acidic) pH level. Ascorbic acid works because oxygen will react with it before it will react with the polyphenol oxidase. However, once the ascorbic acid gets used up, the oxygen will start reacting with the enzyme and browning will occur. Lemon juice's low pH level also helps prevent browning. “
For more Halloween fun, come to Kidspaces annual “Halloween Hunt” on Sunday October 26th from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. To register for the hunt (required to go to the trick or treat portion of the day’s events) go to: