Making A Turnip Ghost

Turnip Ghost

Traditionally, Jack-o’-lanterns were carved from turnips, not pumpkins. Pumpkins are a new world vegetable, so of course prior to colonisation of the Americas there were no pumpkins in Europe. Something else was needed for one’s vegetable-based horror skull lamp needs.

I’ve always wondered how easy a turnip Jack-o’-lantern would be to carve, so last night I had a go at a couple. I’m not an especially skilled Jack-o’-lantern carver, so the results are not spectacular, but it works pretty well.

The steps are straightforward, and not very different to carving a pumpkin. I did the following:

  1. Cut the top off with a vegetable knife leaving enough cap to make a lid.
  2. Cut the bottom off if needed to make a stable base.
  3. Cut a circle inside the top of the turnip. Make cross-hatches in the flesh you want to remove using the knife. Start digging out the interior with a teaspoon. You could skip step 3 and go straight to it with a teaspoon if you don’t think you need a cut circle to guide your teaspoon digging.
  4. Once the inside is suitably hollowed-out, use a vege knife to very gently cut a face.

Some pointers:

  1. There’s no difference in the pith and innards of a turnip the way there is with a pumpkin. You have to be careful you don’t punch right through the wall of the turnip while digging out flesh.
  2. The inside of a turnip is about the same consistency as a very hard-frozen sorbet or iceblock.
  3. You may need to cut an air-hole in the back of the turnip and some breathing holes in the lid to allow air to circulate. The first time I put the lid on turnips with lit candles, the candles snuffed out from lack of oxygen.
  4. Alternatively, made the mouth big and move it up the turnip, so that it is above the flame, and allows the flame to breath.
  5. There isn’t a lot of room inside your average turnip. Pick as big a turnip as you can, and don’t burn turnip Jack-o’-lanterns indoors unless you like the smell of slightly burnt turnip flesh.

I found the whole process to be pretty easy. I reckon that it’d be possible to give a turnip with the top lopped off and a teaspoon to an older child as a mini Jack-o’-lantern project while a supervising adult is carving a pumpkin. Obviously, don’t give knives to children, and even though they might only be working with a teaspoon there is still a (probably remote) chance of injury through over-zealous spoon use. Use common sense and supervise accordingly.

Some advantages:

  1. Carving turnips is probably safe for kids (use your judgement), as it can be done more or less with a teaspoon
  2. The white colour gives a nice skull-like look.
  3. The flame is less protected than in a pumpkin, so it flickers a lot more. Left out at night, turnip Jack-o’-lanterns appear and disappear as the flame flickers. It feels much like how an actual Will-o’-the-wisp should look
  4. I didn’t experiment, but the turnip should be carve-up-able from the outside too. I expect with some practise you could actually carve something that looks a lot like a skull or withered fairy face.
  5. The scooped out turnip innards could easily be used to make a turnip and potato mash, or similar. No need to waste vegetables.


  1. Tendency to raise a slight stink of burnt turnip when lit.
  2. Candle is prone to go out in a wind at night.


Turnip Ghost
Inside of a turnip Jack-o’lantern with tea light
Rear of Jack-o’-lantern with air hole for candle shown
Turnip Ghost
Top of turnip Jack-o’-lantern with four triangular air holes cut into it
Turnip Ghost
Alas, poor turnip Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those turnip lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your turnip gibes now? Your turnip gambols? Your turnip songs? Your turnip flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Turnip Hamlet, V.i)

About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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  1. Alas, poor turnip Yorick! Hehe

  2. Pingback: What is a “turnip-ghost”?A post for Hallowe'en | Jack of Kent blog - News4Security

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