Thursday, 14 May 2009

Halloween Lanterns - Turnips - Forget America and its pumpkins

Advantages: It looks nicer and the 'waste' is tastier

Disadvantages: Hard to scoop out, but less smelly and messy than a pumpkin

Why not have a traditional turnip lantern at Halloween this year instead of the American pumpkin Jack O Lantern. 

In Scotland, Ireland and the North of England people have been making their Halloween lanterns out of turnips (Swedes as they are known in the South) for centuries. 

Halloween is all about the dead, and the origin of the turnip lantern was to represent the souls of the dead on this ghostliest of nights. 

Many people in these areas have now adopted the American pumpkin Jack O Lantern, for their Halloween decoration, probably because the turnip is so difficult to carve, but you really should give it a go, and besides the carved out innards of the turnip are tasty. 

Before you start you need to know the difference between a turnip and a swede. We will be using the bigger of the two here. In some parts of Britain (mainly the south of England), they call this a swede and the smaller one a turnip. the thing to remember is that of the two we are using the bigger one. So if you are in the South you will probably want to ask your greengrocer for a SWEDE. 

The first thing to do is to take a slice off the top of the turnip, to make a lid and to give you access to the flesh. Next is the really hard bit. With a combination of an OLD tablespoon and an OLD sharp knife, gouge out the flesh and set aside to cook later (see my other review on cooking turnip). Don't use any of the woody outer flesh though for the cooking - discard this. Scoop out a bowl shape from the pumpkin, and leave the outer about a half to one inch thick. Next, gouge a small depression, in the base (but don't cut through the base), large enough for a candle to socket into, then with a sharp knife cut out the shapes of a face on the front, the spookier the better! When you are ready, set the lantern somewhere stable and safe, pop a little 'chimney hole' in the lid, light the candle, and drip some melted wax into the depression. Then quickly but safely socket the candle into this - the melted wax will solidify around the candle and should hold it in place, check to be sure. Pop the lid back on. You have probably worked harder to make this, than you would have done making one from a pumpkin, but I really think this traditional celtic lantern looks the part over the American one. If you are taking the pumpkin out 'guising' (trick-or-treating), you will need a handle. You will need to make two holes in the pumpkin and two holes in the lid, and string some string through these holes in such a way that the lid stays attached to the pumpkin. Please remember to arrange the string in such a way that the candle won't set it alight. 

After trying this you probably won't go back to the pumpkin method - the combination of the candle and the heated turnip flesh gives off a not unpleasant aroma that will always remind you of hallowe'en. 

Above all though, remember to make a delicious turnip mash out of the carved out scoops.

Summary: Its British and Irish and traditional.

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