Scary 1970s Halloween – Carved Turnip or Pumpkin?

Scary 1970s Halloween – Carved Turnip or Pumpkin?

Interesting facts about turnips and swedes (not Swedes). Generally speaking in the north of England, Scotland and Ireland turnips are the big purple things that you mash and swedes are the little beige things that you feed to animals. You will get different views depending on who you ask and some people will not have a clue what a turnip or swede is and may even mention parsnips. Phht!

That is all beside the point as I need to be clear what vegetable I am talking about when I move on to the art of carving turnips (swedes would be way too hard as they are tiny and we may be in Record Breakers territory for the world’s smallest carved vegetable or dolls house type carved vegetables – popular on eBay and Etsy but nowhere else).

In the 1970s in the north of England Halloween was a very different matter to what it is today in the UK. It was really cold for starters. It was very dark. And very scary – for many reasons, not just Halloween. There were no pumpkins, trick or treating was limited to people you were related to and dressing up (in anything other than ripped old clothes or sheets: zombie, ghost) and parties that adults attended were something that only happened on television (on three channels). Apple bobbing was the only party game played. Only children played and it was predominantly for the entertainment of adults who had an excuse to waterboard children for just one day a year.

The best thing that I remember from Halloween was carving turnips. Now I have carved a pumpkin I realise now how much harder carving a turnip is. We have it so easy! You were highly likely to carve your fingers/ arms/ worse as turnip flesh is really, really hard and you needed a really, really sharp knife or needed to be really, really strong. None of which bodes well for keeping 10 fingers. However somehow my mum (mam) did it (from what I remember without loss of blood) and we put a candle inside to make the turnip glow and roamed the streets for a bit. It was brilliant. It was all we needed to celebrate Halloween.

So now, when I talk about how we used to carve turnips, people look at me confused. I go on to explain and still confusion and the question why? (The same look when I talk about how we were given coffee at school – aged five). Times have changed. We have embraced a US version of Halloween which has grown detached from history and is much more about parties, dressing up, getting drunk, spending money and so on. There is much written about the history of Halloween and its origin and meaning – turnips were used as lanterns in the 19th century in many part of the UK at Halloween. Maybe we were slow to change or maybe we were just keeping it real.

I think carved turnips look pretty special, they look scarier – they also last a bit longer than pumpkins too. This year I couldn’t find a turnip to carve (UK turnip shortage?) so I have had to use a picture from last year. I did carve a pumpkin. It turned out pretty good and I got to roast the flesh and seeds to make some delicious Halloween Gluten Free, Vegan Sweet Pumpkin Tart.

Halloween carved turnip lantern.
Halloween carved pumpkin lantern.


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