If you've any interest in the history of hallowe'en, you've likely come across a reference to the original carved vegetables from which today's carved pumpkins descend. The vegetable in question? - turnips. Yes, in olden days, celts carved turnips into ghoulish faces, popped in a bit of fire, and carried them as lanterns. Why didn't they use pumpkins? Because pumpkins didn't exist in europe at the time (we're talking many centuries ago). Also, there was a quirky little story about a man named Jack who fooled the devil into leaving him be, only to find upon his death that he was unwelcome in heaven or hell. The lonely soul was cursed to walk the earth. In his hand, he carried a turnip, carved into a lantern, and holding a bit of the devil's own fire. The cursed soul was, of course, known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack-o-lantern.
The web has a scattering of sites discussing turnips carving, and the obligatory youtube video documenting the carving of a turnip (below). Many of these sites are made by first time carvers, and often show small turnips, no biger than your fist. (The youtube guy actually had a descent sized turnip, but it doesn't look like it had gone all corky yet). Little wonder the experience is difficult! I've not made that mistake.
You see, we grew our own turnips this year - salad turnips for eating raw in spring and early summer. Delicious then, but you can only eat so many raw turnips. So, some of them remained in the garden until... well, they're still there. Today I peaked under the leaves and was greeted by the most monstrous turnips ever conceived. I chopped one open and found that the flesh had turned corky, with small air pockets thoughout. This was a turnip I could carve. As I'd guessed, the interior of the root was quickly cleared, with the aid of a knfie and a large spoon. It was not done as quickly as it can with a pumpkin, and there were no tasty seeds for roasting, but there was also messy slime within. I consider it a worthwhile tradeoff.
And so, I present my turnip jack-o-lantern:
I encourage you to grow your own turnips next year, and leave a few in to become monstrous carving turnips for your all-hallows eve celebrations. (If anyone would like to carve one of my mega turnips, let me know. If I can arrange a reasonable drop-off point, one is yours!)
PS: There are apparently still a few places that do autumnal turnip carving, namely the Isle of Man, and a certain town in Switzerland