Posted by: wrmcnutt | March 10, 2010

Cloven Fruit: An Operator’s Manual

Cloven Fruit
An Operator’s Manual

Or… Why is this weirdo puckering up while handing me an orange?

The “Cloved” or “Cloven” Fruit is an SCA tradition. It’s fairly harmless, but it can be a little embarassing if you don’t know the rules. And it’s a essentially a kissing game. The Author (that’s me) has not seen any verifiable claim to any medieval kissing game at all, and there have been numerous reports that the cloven fruit is, in fact, an SCA invention created way back in the ancient days of the 1980’s.

Folk may argue that the cloven fruit isn’t period, that kissing games are juvenile, or that they are unhygenic. But none of that really matters. Rare though they are in Meridies, they are going to show up, and you are going to have to deal with them.   It’s just an ice-breaker that allows two people to meet, and gives them something in common to talk about: namely, how awkward it is to deal with a cloven fruit.

That said, the cloven fruit is typically a citrus fruit of some type, orange, lemon, or the like. Although I have seen cucumbers and watermelons in my day. It is studded with cloves.

When presented with a cloven fruit, you have two choices, accept it or reject it. Do me a favor: ALWAYS accept it. No matter what anyone may have told you, SCA culture, at least here in Merdieis, does not put you under obligation to go tonsil-diving with every wierdo who walks up with an orange. However, many folks in the SCA are still working out how to speak to opposite-gender-type persons, and the cloven fruit give you the opportunity to interact constructively, no matter what your response.   I can’t speak for the ladies, but you’d go easier on me hitting me in the gut with a 2 pound ball-peen hammer than publicly rejecting a cloven fruit. It’s just as embarassing, and generates a less painful sensation in my stomach.

“But, I’m MARRIED,” you say, or “My boyfriend is very jealous,” or “I’m gay!” Worst of all: “This person is greasy and disgusting! I don’t want to kiss that!” Well, a cloven fruit is not an invitation to get married, go steady, or even spend the night, although there may be some hope that it will lead to one or more of the above. It’s a way to meet you, and a statement that you are attractive and interesting.

If you are not interested, for whatever reason, don’t make excuses. Just smile and allow them to put the fruit in your hand. Remove a clove with your fingers, and firmly present your hand to be kissed. That should be all it takes. Whoever is presenting the fruit should kiss your hand. If they press farther, they are out of line.  In that event, say, don’t shout, firmly, “Down boy!  Sit!  Stay!”  This will get your point across in a light-hearted manner that will minimize hurt feelings or embarassment.

If, on the other hand, you find the presenter intriguing, remove a clove with your teeth, and present your cheek, or lips as you consider appropriate.

The Cloven Fruit is also gender-descriminatory. The Ladies are ALWAYS in the driver’s seat. The relative level of the smoochies is determined by the lady involved. Gentlemen, if a lady presents you with a fruit, wait to see what part of her anatomy she wants kissed. Likewise, if you present a lady with a fruit, wait for her to present a hand, cheek or lips. Don’t ever presume.

Once you have completed the ritual, you have a fruit in your hand full of cloves, minus the one you took out. Look around for someone you might like to meet, or already know and want to smooch, and pass the fruit on.


Wow. No good deed goes unpunished, does it? I thought you might be interested in one person’s take on this article. – Will

From Reginleif:

I just love how creeps like you seem to think that women somehow OWE them sexual access, and that my comfort and sexual agency should take a distant back seat to your dewicate widdle rejected-geek fee-fees. Fuck you. I’d throw the goddamned orange back in your face.


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  1. “Pig” is an appropriate moniker. You already explained that women are in charge, and how to delicately accept a cloven fruit without giving any ‘access’. Whew. Someone had their knickers in a wad.

    • I’ve got to admit; I was startled. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me all the time, but this is the kind of thing that can put someone off of writing.

      • Milord Will, me thinkith mine keen nose doth detect the strong hint of troll. Didn’t you feed it further or let the poor thing rightly starve?

  2. I don’t think it’s likely anyone would make the mistake of offering anything to this person. If she’s this rude on the internet, I can’t imagine what a harridan she’d be in the flesh. I’d be afraid of getting my arm bitten off handing her anything! The good news is, her face is probably a reflection of her charming personality, so you’d likely be able to tell it was a bad idea before you made any offer!

    • I dunno about her face, but I’m comfortable with the idea that she’s not anybody I’d want to be around. But then, she clearly wouldn’t want to be around me, eh?

      • Yeah, right. You insensitive sexist pig!

  3. Wow! I think her response is a sign of the times. Everyone feels they are more important than the rest and human kindness and decency goes out the window. Everyone thinks it is their right never to be offended.
    I really don’t see how a kissing game makes you a “pig”. And the lady has the right to refuse, kindly. If someone were to give me a cloven fruit, albeit however unwanted, I would be flattered ( after all, they did _choose_ me) and graciously present my hand.

    • That was sorta my take on it.

  4. Don’t let this put you off writing.

    common courtesy is unfortunately no longer so common. That post was written by someone who deserves our sympathy…..bless her poor little wounded heart.

    that said, cloven fruit always make me edgy, simply because so many guys have no …delicacy in their presentation and no ability to wait to see what (if any) portion of me is gong to be presented for a kiss. being mauled is apt to put anyone off, even if the next guy to offer is polite and sweet.


  5. I understand completely, but PLEASE don’t put all men in the same catagory as the “pigs”….. I have a wonderful husband NOW, but had to go thru 2 of the latter group to find him!

    Women; as Gulf Wars is coming up (yes, for me 2 days away!)…..common sense is to be kept in mind. Yes, there’s “crazies” out there and even in the SCA, otherwise there would not be a need for legal counsel.
    Get to know your friends….. share with them that you are uncomfortable with the cloven fruit and then they can “run interferrence” for you. Yes, you have to trust others, but if you don’t, you too could become like our dear wounded friend!

    Also, get some close men friends…… guards! I have a very special guy friend that takes care of me every “Midnight Madness” so that I am OK. (it is the only night that I drink and leave camp the whole event as I have a 8 yr old) My hubby knows, likes, respects, greatly appreciates, but most of all, trusts him with his most precious people…. and he never let’s him down. He is one of the nicest, most honorable, chivarlist, non-fighter SINGLE men in the SCA!

    I completely agree with your operator’s manual and thank you for writing it!

    • Here here!

  6. I will always remember one part of a courtesy class I took at my first Black Gryphon. Almost all the same ground was covered as this post and the emails on the list that inspired it, but when cloven fruit came up teacher had one additional bit of advise for the gentlemen. “When the fruit comes your way and the kiss has been concluded, don’t stand there tossing the fruit up in the air and catching it while looking around the room like a dodgeball player looking for the slow kid on the other team.”

    • Of course not. TALK TO HER!

  7. Oh my… I don’t think that woman has to worry about what she would do if a man gave her a cloven fruit, because it’s not gonna happen. No man, no matter how desperate, would want to be anywhere near someone with such a lousy attitude.

    I loved the article, and thanks for adding the entertaining email response. It made my day!

    • My pleasure. I knew I wasn’t gonna please everyone when I started this, but some of the responses I’ve got have been . . . startling.

  8. I have yet to go to a sponsored SCA event, but I have been told by some that this game can be fun. I have an acquaintance who is waiting to see my response upon receipt or delivery.

  9. I don’t know why everyone is pissed off here.. But as a female who was wondering what in hell was with all the studded oranges, this is the most helpful article I have found.

    Take your panties out of your asses. Put down the PMS axes. There was nothing sexist or “piggish” here. The man is just trying to help.

    I, for one, need more SCA Dummy manuals.

  10. Hmm seems my reply needed only be singular.
    My apologies, fellow comment-ors! I blame my lack of coffee.

  11. What is the best way to insert the cloves into an orange?

    • I use an icepick. Poke the orange with the icepick gently, then put the clove into the hole left by the icepick.

  12. I don’t want to come across as being rude like “pig” but I can related to her sentiment to a certain extent. The way I’ve always understood it, the cloven fruit is, essentially, a come on or flirtation, as you say, it’s a statement that the person is “attractive and interesting” (presumably in a romantic/sexual way). But what if I’m not okay with that fact? I’m both in a relationship and, therefore, off limits, and creeped out by the idea of strangers being attracted to me (if they don’t know me what could they be attracted to?) Even if it’s not physically invasive, I would feel wrong accepting a fruit and a kiss on the hand because I feel like that’s saying that their attraction to me is okay, even if I don’t share it. Is there any way to convey this politely or must I shun all SCA events to avoid being considered an awful person for refusing fruit? I love the middle ages etc. but have always been acutely uncomfortable in the
    SCA because of things like this. I was in a dance chapter for awhile and, even though my partner and I were there together every single time, people would still try to flirt with one or the other of us (even when the other one was standing right there). I think the SCA is great in many ways and it makes me very sad that I can’t seem to fit in for this reason.

    • It’s an old article, and the cloven fruit was falling out of fashion when I wrote it years ago. I can’t remember the last time that I saw one. So you needn’t avoid SCA events if the idea of accepting a cloven fruit is that disturbing to you. Odds are good that it’s no longer going to come up.


  13. […] guy she had met at a medieval style feast .  She and Gary got to know one another over some cloven-orange related shenanigans.  Their journey brought them, a little while later, to Dijon, where Gary […]

  14. I learned this weekend what a bite out of the apple means…
    Someone told me to take the clove if I wanted a kiss. I assumed I was supposed to take a bite. Later, I learned the ways to remove the clove.
    Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed when the lady who handed me the apple had high hopes.

  15. Not an invention of the 1980s SCA, in that we already had cloved oranges in the SCA in the 1970s and had done enough actual research to know that sticking cloves into oranges as a Christmas/New Year’s gift was a documented-as-just-out-of-period (and therefore likely to have been around at least somewhat in period) custom in England, having been mentioned in Ben Jonson’s Christmas Masque, performed in 1616. The flirting game associated with the cloved oranges, however, may have been an invention of the 1970s SCA (but human nature being what it is, and was, it would not be surprising if something similar occurred 400 years ago, too).

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