Turnip jack-o-lanterns are traditional Halloween lanterns that pre-date pumpkin carving and can have an even scarier effect. They’re terrifying little moots that often resemble shrunken heads! If you’d like to try something a little different this year, follow in the footsteps of Celtic people across Britain. Opt out of carving a pumpkin and make yourself a smaller, somewhat more terrifying turnip jack-o-lantern. Use these tips on how to hollow out and carve a turnip jack-o-lantern easily.
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All you’ll need for this Halloween project are large turnips, a knife, a spoon or chisel, and an electric drill. If you don’t have an electric drill, you can use the more traditional method of hollowing out turnips with a metal spoon. It takes more time but could get you in the festive mood with a bit more pain and potentially a few drops of blood. Doesn’t sound fun? Then use this easier way to carve a turnip jack-o-lantern!
Moots are Scarier than Pumpkins
On the Isle of Man, the 31st of October isn’t Hallowe’en, it’s Hop tu Naa. In other parts of Celtic Britain, it’s called Samhain, Nos Galan Gaeaf, and Allantide. Instead of celebrating a day for the dead, it’s the Celtic new years eve and has been around long before the modern holiday. Even though the holidays are different they are related and have strong similarities. Children dress up, sing, and play pranks, and there’s definitely a spooky feeling. There are differences though and in the Celtic tradition, you carve turnips rather than pumpkins.
Even if you plan on carving a pumpkin this year, you should consider carving a turnip too. They have a long history and can be even creepier than a pumpkin. All of the turnip’s nooks and wrinkles can be used to create zombie-like faces and their color is reminiscent of zombie skin too!
Source Your Turnips
The first thing you’ll need to get is turnips. You’ll need the larger type that is known by various names: swede, swedish turnip, rutabaga, turnip, moot. They’re commonly grown across the northern hemisphere and are sometimes easy to find at supermarkets. If not, try your farmers’ market or consider growing them in the garden next year. They’re almost effortless to grow if your summers are mild.
Hollowing out Turnips for Turnip Jack-o-Lanterns
Begin making a turnip jack-o-lantern by cutting off the top of the turnip. It should be at least half an inch below the stem and wide enough that you can get in easily to carve the inner flesh out. Though you can cut it at a level angle, if you wish, you’ll have more area to carve if you make an angled cut away from the side that you want your design to appear.
Now comes the difficult bit. The only trouble with turnip jack-o-lanterns is the effort it takes to hollow them out. Most people chip away at the centers with spoons and it can take a very long time. People often fondly remember back to ruining their hands by whittling the hard flesh of turnips out with blunt spoons. I’ve done it before and let me tell you, it’s not the best part of making a turnip jack-o-lantern.
This year we decided to be a little more clever and got the drill out. It made short work of the job and it only took me six minutes to hollow my first one out. The key piece of kit that we used was spade bits that attach to an electric drill. They come in different sizes and as you can see in the video (further below) I began with a larger size and swapped for a smaller one for around the edges.
Cleaning & Carving the Turnip Jack-o-lantern
Once you’ve made as many drilled holes as possible, it’s easy to chip away the remains using a spoon or wood chisel. I highly recommend the wood chisel since I also used it to smooth the inner walls of the lantern. After it’s hollowed, carving the design is very similar to carving a pumpkin. Draw your design with a pencil and then cut it partially or all the way out with a kitchen knife. If you cut away just a little of the flesh in the design, rather than removing all of it, then the inner flesh will glow orange when lit. Pop a tea light inside and your moot is ready to thrill! See the entire process in the video below.