Today, a brief tutorial on how to make a seasonal craft that gives an autumnal walk or an autumnal dinner just the right bit of whimsy and light to make everything else disappear for awhile.
My nephew recently made a paper lantern in the Martinmas tradition at his preschool. After getting a detailed explanation from him over the phone, Faye decided that she’d like to recreate the tradition at home. Without a sheet of paper or a paper cup to call our own, I originally planned to throw caution to the wind and set Faye up with a mason jar and a beeswax tea light. Then I remembered that she’s three and I spied a honeynut squash sitting on our table, and a non-breakable solution was found. I thwacked off the top, scraped out the insides with an ice cream scoop, cut a few holes and threaded a bit of wire for a non-combustible handle. Less than ten minutes later, we had two lanterns ready for a “forest walk” through the wilds of Brooklyn on a blustery evening.
Whether or not you decide to string your lantern and use it to light your way on a St. Martin’s walk this coming weekend, a squash lantern might be just what you need on a gloomy fall night, especially now that they’re coming so early. If you’re feeling ambitious, you might consider making a little collection of them for your Thanksgiving table. (They present an opportunity to avoid the more onerous project of peeling the base of the squash, and you’ll still be left with plenty of vegetable to use for a side dish!)
I first saw honeynut squash—the smaller sisters of butternut squash—appearing at farmers’ markets last year. I love them because they’re easier to peel than butternuts and just as delicious. They’re the very perfect size for this project, and because the bottom bulb is mostly seeds anyway, you’re not sacrificing much in terms of edible veg. That said, any bulbous winter squash would do—even small pumpkins—so don’t fret if you can’t find honeynuts where you are.
When I made my first impromptu lantern, I diced the remaining half of the squash and added it to a pot of chili. When I recreated the project for you here, I roasted the tops in the oven for a garlicky purée. No matter what you decide to make, don’t forget to save the top half for eating!
As I always do, I used an ice cream scoop to clean out the inside of the squash. (A note or two about squash seeds if you’re interested.)
Honeynut squash is super easy to carve, so even a small paring knife makes quick work of the job. I experimented with a few different lantern cuts, but I loved the tiny crescents above best.
Much to my delight, this hand drill has been used almost exclusively for autumnal decorating since I bought a set for James years ago. I used it to poke quick holes here, but for my prototype lanterns, I just grabbed the metal straw that was on the kitchen counter, and that worked too!
Add a bit of sage and some wonky tea lights, and you’ve got yourself a festive tabletop.
If you want to take your lanterns for a walk, thin wire is a nice fire-proof option for a handle, but string would work in a pinch too. If you’re concerned about little guys remembering to hold lanterns away from their clothes, you could tie the lantern to a longer stick (or, of course, you could use use a small string of portable fairy lights or a battery-operated tea light to reduce any risk altogether.)
Faye asked me repeatedly to “wash” the squash (which she thought looked dusty), but I love the natural waxy patina that mutes the color of the honeynut squash.
And there you go. A little autumnal joy for now or later.
What about you guys? Do you celebrate St. Martin’s Day? Take lantern-lit forest walks? Have delicious winter squash recipes to share? Tell us!
For other festive projects, consider: