And so begins the month-long journey towards the most splendid holiday of the year. You’ll find shrunken apple heads perfect for turning your home into a Halloween house of horrors, and a big hit with kids. Although I don’t remember making them as a child, I certainly recall coming across the real thing in National Geographic, which routinely featured stories about indigenous peoples and their curious practice of decapitating enemies and collecting their heads as trophies. I propose we begin the festivities with a little headshrinking of our own. This sort of thing takes time, so lets get started.
- paring knife
- potato peeler
- spider webbing
- wire or paper clips
- wire cutters
- pins (optional)
- string (optional)
- toothpicks or rice (optional)
- lemon juice (optional)
- salt (optional)
Shrunken apple heads can last for years once they are dry, provided they aren’t eaten by pesky critters. The first photograph in this post shows what they look like after 2 weeks, so plan on making yours at least 2 weeks before Halloween so they are ready on time. By then, their faces will be shrivelling nicely, and can continue to dry if you decide to keep them long term.
1. Peel the apples with a potato peeler. Use the tip of the potato peeler or a small paring knife to cut out the eyes, nose and mouth. If children are too young for knives, use a skewer to poke out bits of the apple to create the basic features. You don’t have to be very precise. The shrinking process has a way of making pretty much anything look nice and sinister. If you prefer the final result to look lighter in colour, dip each apple in a mixture of 1 cup lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of salt for about 30 seconds right after you’ve peeled them.
2. Once the features have been carved out, the apples will need to dry for at least 2 weeks. It’s important that the entire apple be exposed to air, so try laying them on a wire rack, or skewer them and poke them in an egg carton like in the photo above.
3. Before you leave these apples to dry, decide how you will be displaying them. If you want to poke them into a centrepiece or outdoor pots, put a long skewer through the bottom of the apple. If you will be hanging them, use a tool like an awl and push it through the entire apple, from top to bottom. You will then have a space to push string or wire through. If you decide to display them here and there on bookcases and tables, you won’t need to add anything.
4. Once dry, you can decorate them using a variety of materials. Spider webbing works great for hair. I bent some thin wire into a u shape and poked it into the apple to secure the hair. You can also use wire cutters to cut paper clips for this purpose. Pins were used for eyeballs, and toothpicks for teeth. Grains of rice also make great teeth.
If placing them outside, don’t do it before Halloween night, lest the local squirrels eat them up. And don’t even think about sprinkling cayenne pepper, which some have suggested as a deterrent. It’s too cruel!
Finally, when we made ours, we saw once again how fruit flies have the incredible knack of appearing out of thin air. If this happens to you, my Fruit Fly Killer Recipe will put an end to your infestation within a few days. Fill a small bowl with water, some cider vinegar (although any kind will do), a squirt of dishwashing liquid, and a small piece of fruit to entice them. Mix and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes which are big enough for them to get in, but small enough to never leave.