make your own: squash lanterns.

November 8, 2017

squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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!)
squash lanterns | reading my tea leavesI 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.squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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!squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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.)squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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. squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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!squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

Add a bit of sage and some wonky tea lights, and you’ve got yourself a festive tabletop.squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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.)squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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.squash lanterns | reading my tea leaves

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:

Beeswax-Dipped Leaves.

Apple Cider Syrup.

Beeswax Candles (also).

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  • Reply Аnn November 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Very nice and cozy

  • Reply Rita November 8, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Favorite craft of yours along with the bubble wand! But why not wash the squash if it was what she liked/wanted?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Thanks! Re: washing, the waxy patina doesn’t wash off these guys. (Perhaps it would if you scrubbed very hard and used something coarse, but I can’t imagine you’d have much luck.) Only relaying that bit of the story because I thought it was cute that Faye thought it was dirty 😉

      • Reply Rita November 8, 2017 at 11:47 am

        Haha! I see now! Thanks!

  • Reply Isabel November 8, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Ha – and when you’re done squash and sage pancakes …
    We had them last night!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2017 at 11:52 am

      YUM! Adding to my list.

  • Reply Jennifer November 8, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Perfect thing for our Thanksgiving table, thanks! Where do you get your beeswax tea lights?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      I bought a set from the Chicago Honey Coop last year, and I’ve been refilling them with melted wax ever since! A little onerous, but very satisfying. (I did finally cave and buy pre-threaded tabs, because the re-threading got way too annoying.) Lots of details in this post!

  • Reply Kate S November 8, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Can you source the hand drill set, please? Or something similar? Sounds like a great tool to have around for kiddo work! Thanks!

  • Reply Jay November 8, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Love this craft so much! Do the cuts/holes go all the way through to the middle of the squash or do you leave a thin layer intact?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

      I carved all the way through, since the skin is so thin!

  • Reply Caroline November 8, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    There’s a Martinmas walk in Brooklyn this Saturday. It’s organized by CityKinder and benefits Million Children Rising. Details are here:
    We haven’t gone before, but we’re planning to this year, squash lanterns in hand.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Lovely! Might have to check it out, too!

  • Reply Katy November 9, 2017 at 7:20 am

    GReat idea for thanksgiving table! How long do these guys last?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 9, 2017 at 10:48 am

      Thanks! I’d make them the night before Thanksgiving to make sure they’re fresh! They’re pretty thin-walled so they only last a few days after carving!

  • Reply deanna November 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

    My kiddos’ preschool makes lanterns and does a St. Martin’s walk and celebration, too. It is a really sweet tradition. Your version is beautiful!

  • Reply Stephanie November 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm


  • Reply Mathilde November 9, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    This is so cute and such a nice idea !!

  • Reply Piper November 9, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    This is SO cute and such a great idea! I couldn’t find any honey nut squash at Trader Joe’s tonight, might have to check out a farmers market this weekend 🙂

  • Reply Joanne November 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Love this!

  • Reply Genevieve November 12, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t peel butternut squash any more, the faff is unreal and for any of my uses (roasting, making soup) it’s been just as good! The skin goes totally soft if you roast it.

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