Food & DrinkGood Growing

Can It Jack-o’-Lantern? Carving Up Alternative Fruits and Veggies

Jack-o’-lantern alternatives produce varying results of success. Photo credit: Erin France

Can confirm: Pumpkins make the best jack-o’-lanterns. At least, that’s my takeaway after carving faces on seven different fruits and veggies.

You might want to consider switching out the iconic gourd with another less-likely piece of produce because of novelty or avoiding the occasional Devil’s Night hooligan smashing your work. I used a candle for all my experiments, because that’s what I had on hand. Some of this produce likely could last longer with an electric light instead of a flame.

Turnip: Turnips are the original jack-o’-lantern, according to one Irish legend. An Irishman makes a deal with the Devil that he can’t go to hell, but after dying, he’s also banished from heaven. The Irishman takes his favorite vegetable, the turnip (in some tales, the Devil throws it at him), carves it out and places a candle inside to light his Earthly path. People mimicked the practice to keep evil spirits away from their homes at the end of October, when the dead were said to roam. Immigrants brought the practice to America. Americans and the Irish hewed faces into gourds in the 1800s, with pumpkins eventually rising to popularity, bolstered, in part, by American Gothic writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving.

Carving out the inside of a turnip is not as easy as carving a pumpkin. I hacked at the stubborn turnip flesh for longer than I thought. Once excavated, this root veggie really shines. They are easy to sculpt, even for an amateur. I hacked off the top layer of flesh to make some glowing teeth. Though small, the turnip didn’t have too many burn marks from its time as a jack-o’-lantern.

Potato: Well, if I’m writing about my Irish ancestors, I’ve got to carve the stereotypical potato, right? I found Russet potatoes, while larger, nearly impossible to hollow out compared to the softer red potatoes. Curved lines, like the toothy grin, didn’t come easily, either. The potato did have the fewest number of scorch marks of all the small produce. This could make a fun Halloween-themed stuffed potato meal, maybe, but I’ll stay away from a potato jack-o’-lantern.

Bell Pepper: The bell pepper’s mostly empty on the inside. After removing the seeds, it’s an easy thing to make a face in the flesh. Turning the bell pepper into a lantern seemed fine, until I blew out the candle and saw the burn marks. Woah, definitely a fire hazard. The bell pepper face also sagged after one day. Like the potato, the bell pepper could star in a Halloween-themed veg-centered crudite platter or stuffed and roasted for a dinner, but probably shouldn’t hang out on your counter with a candle inside.

Grapefruit: The most flammable of all these options. Don’t let the size of the fruit fool you like it did me. After easily removing the fruit (and reserving it for dinner later that night), the face almost immediately started sagging. By the time I lit the candles, the grapefruit’s scary toothy-grin looked like it needed dentures. The pith started smoking within moments. Not a good option with a candle or without. 

Apple: Easy to core, easy to carve, and it didn’t earn any scorch marks. I picked the largest apples I could find and spent the time digging out a large hollow. Maybe it was the variety, but the apple’s flesh didn’t block much of the candle’s light so the whole fruit illuminated the night. Could be a fun option. 

Eggplant: I thought this would be a total failure, but it worked out well. It was fairly easy to core the eggplant, and I cooked the insides for dinner. Unlike many of the other options on this list, the eggplant flesh isn’t wet and didn’t result in a puddle on my counter. Even after a day, the flesh remained firm and sturdy. The best part was the thick, dark color of the eggplant that blocked all the candle’s light and made the jack-o’-lantern pop, both at night and during the day. Not much of a burning hazard either: no scorch marks.

Pineapple: I saw these silly pineapple jack-o’-lanterns on the internet, and I decided to try it for myself. Whole pineapples are harvested in the fall and early winter, so the produce is in season and not prohibitively expensive. Pineapples are wet, y’all. I made the biggest mess by coring and carving this fruit. The bumpy flesh also made cutting a face more difficult than I was expecting. The cool, pointy hair-do on top did make up for some of the frustrations. If you decide to tackle this project, I recommend cutting off the top and bottom to make removing the pineapple’s thick core easier.

Erin France