Apparently We Should Be Making Jack-o-Lanterns with Turnips, Not Pumpkins

According to English Heritage, Brits celebrating Halloween should return to the older, European tradition of carving ghoulish faces into turnips, after wet August weather led to a reduced supply of the squash.
October 27, 2015, 1:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Anne Petersen

We know it's nearly Halloween and you've got a cut-price pumpkin, umpteen tealights, and a whole Pinterest board of lol-tastic Jack-o-Lantern designs (how hard can it be to replicate the praying hands emoji with a scraper-scoop?), but we're here to rain on your pumpkin carving parade.

According to a British charity, it's time to drop the kitchen knife and step away from the squash: you've been ushering in trick-or-treaters with the wrong vegetable.

This week, English Heritage issued a call for Brits celebrating Halloween to carve turnips, rather than pumpkins, after wet August weather led to a reduced supply of the squash.

According to food industry publication The Grocer, UK pumpkin yields are down by 50 percent. Commercial director of fruit and vegetable supplier Barfoot explained: "Retailers don't take any fruits with minor blemishes or soft spots as these progress into full-blown issues in the depot networks and in the ambient temperature of stores, where they metamorphose into pumpkin soup."

READ MORE: Americans Will Eat Anything Pumpkin Flavoured—Except Pumpkins

According to English Heritage, trick-or-treaters should be using the pumpkin shortage as impetus to get back to the older, European tradition of carving ghoulish faces into turnips.

English Heritage historian Dr. Michael Carter said: "From carved pumpkins to trick-or-treating, many of the traditions associated with Halloween today come from early European folklore, rather than simply being American inventions."

Y'see, freaky-faced turnips are the original Jack-o-Lantern. The practice of carving the vegetable is intertwined with folk tales of a man named Jack, forced to roam the earth with only a burning coal inside a hollowed-out turnip as punishment for trying to trick the devil. (Teeny bit harsh, no?)

It was only in the 19th century—when Europeans arriving in the US realised that native American pumpkins were easier to carve than the rock-like turnip—that orange squash Jack-o-Lanterns became a thing.

English Heritage isn't the first organisation to step in and issue pumpkin-related advice in time for Halloween. Last October, UK charity Hubbub staged a "Pumpkin Rescue Campaign," aimed at encouraging Brits—many of whom "think [pumpkin] is a hassle" and "tasteless"—to turn the innards of their Jack-o-Lanterns into soup or pie, rather than simply binning it.

WATCH: How-To: Make Pumpkin Pizza with Thom Beers

Despite the UK's track record with pumpkin, Carter knows that the starchy squash won't go down without a fight.

"I don't think turnips are going to replace pumpkins, they are more difficult to carve, but hopefully people will remember the turnip and all our other rich traditions this Halloween," he said.

Perhaps the strongest case for the turnip isn't its heritage or claims of authenticity, but the fact that you won't find international coffee chains hawking turnip spice lattes anytime soon.

And for that fact alone, we truly should remember the turnip.