Shrunken Apple Heads
I always enjoy carving a pumpkin for Halloween but as I hadn’t yet bought one when Storm Brian confined me to barracks last Saturday, I looked for an alternative project. Got to love the internet – I didn’t have to look very far to find the spooky Shrunken Apple Heads. The shrunken heads, made from peeled, carved, and dried apples, are just as much fun to create as carving a pumpkin but quicker and easier. Apparently Granny Smiths are the apple of choice but I braved ‘Brian’ to nip out into the garden and picked up a couple of ‘Discoveries’ that had conveniently been blown off the tree.
So basically all you do is peel the apple and carve the apple to resemble a skull. All my pumpkin carving stood me in good stead as my three apples turned out well but it might be as well to allow one or two for practise. I used cloves and hazelnuts for the eyes and grains of rice and more cloves for the teeth (see before and after pics above). Have a look on the internet, or in your store cupboard, for some other interesting options!
Then take half a lemon, dip it in salt and rub it over the apple, squeezing a bit as you go to get the juice into the crevices and cuts.
The instructions said to leave the carved apples in a warm, dry spot for several days, when the apple will shrink, and the features will distort. There’s nowhere warm enough to do that in my house – that’s why airing cupboards were so useful – so I put them in the oven on very low for the day. Keep an eye on them or you may end up with baked apples – which isn’t the end of the world, of course!
Insert a stick or small branch into the bottom of the head and place it in a vase to display them or simply sit them on a windowsill.
Pigs and Pumpkins
I will still probably be carving a pumpkin for Halloween as well, and putting it on the wall outside the cottage. Last year I rigged up some solar lights to illuminate the inside (keeping the solar panel on the outside, obviously), which was far more effective than a candle outdoors! As well as being decorative, I enjoy roasting the pumpkin flesh for a fabulous soup and once Halloween is over, my pet pigs enjoy the outer case. There is never any waste in this house. In fact last year a friend, Zana, set up a ‘pumpkin station’ at the end of her road for people to drop off their past-the-best pumpkins, for my pigs. It’s a great recycling initiative, and worth seeing if there are any pumpkin-friendly pigs near you! Or if feasible, you can simply use your old pumpkin as an outdoor bird feeder as the birds will also enjoy the shell as well as whatever goodies you put inside of it.
Oh my Gourd
Pumpkins are a winter squash in the Cucurbitacae family, with relatives including cucumbers and melons. When they were first discovered, by a French explorer, in 1580’s they were called large melons, which translates to ‘pepon’ in Latin. By the 17th century the word ‘pepon’ had morphed into pumpkin. Because they’re savoury, they are often called vegetables although they are technically fruit.
The original jack-o’-lanterns were made with turnips and potatoes by the Irish and large beets in the UK; they were lit with embers and candles to ward off the evil spirits that punctured the veil on Halloween. Pumpkins were eventually preferred as they were easier to carve.
Every single part of a pumpkin is edible. Pumpkin skin can be used to make tasty
Scoop the seeds out of the cavity, rinse some of the pulp off, and spread them on a towel or kitchen paper to dry. Then mix with a little oil and salt and roast on a baking tray in the oven for about 20 minutes. You can use virtually any flavourings you like, from curry spices, herbs like dried thyme and rosemary, for hot treats use paprika and chilli flakes, or for a sweeter option use maple syrup and cinnamon.
As well as super soups, pumpkin flesh makes great hummus, and even burgers, and the pumpkin skin can be dehydrated in the oven (just cook low and slow) or in a dehydrator for great chips and crisps. The pumpkin leaves can be cooked like kale or spinach, but make sure you remove the spine of tiny thorns first and the flowers can be stuffed with a soft cheese and baked or dipped in egg and deep fried. Don’t forget that little pumpkins also make great bowls to serve the pumpkin soup or curry in.