Shrunken heads are the stuff of myth, legend and Hollywood voodoo movies. This Halloween, bring an eerie tradition to life by creating apple “shrunken heads” for your diabolical display. Be as simple or as detailed as you’d like; they may look like they take a lot of effort, but making shrunken heads is so easy, it’s almost scary.
You will need:
- 1 (or more) large-size, fairly round apple(s)
- Bowl of water
- 2 tbsp. salt
- 2 lemon wedges
- Vegetable peeler
- Small knife for carving
- Whole cloves if desired
- Dried rice grains if desired
Step One: Prepare Your Ingredients
Prepare your water about 5-10 minutes before you’re ready to dip your apple in (see Step Three, below). Start by filling a bowl with about four cups of cool water. Pour in the salt, then squeeze juice from the lemon wedges directly over the bowl. Mix for several seconds so that the salt will begin to dissolve into the water and the lemon juice will blend.
Step Two: Peel and Carve the Apple
Select an apple that is fairly round and as large as possible. Apples shrink significantly in size as they dry, so the bigger the apple you start with, the better. Peel the apple with your vegetable peeler; leave the stem on if desired (it will not affect the drying process). Coring your apple isn’t necessary for drying, but if you wish, you can create a longer, more drawn “face” by coring. (Non-cored apples will end up more round or square in shape.)
Now begin carving a face into the apple. You will be carving inward around the most prominent facial feature—the nose. The eyes should be sunken into the apple. Don’t worry about details at this point; just exaggerate whatever features you’d like to stand out on your finished project. For deeply-set eyes, make sure the eyebrow ridge stands out fairly far, and place a clove in the center of each to make a dent once the head is dry.
Step Three: Soak and Hang the Head
Now you’re ready to soak your apple in the prepared water. Allow the apple to sit in the water for a minimum of 10 minutes (for dry, warm areas) or up to one hour (if you live in an area that experiences high humidity). “Spin” the apple a few times in the water during the soaking time. The salt will draw moisture from the apple once it’s out of the water, making the apple dry more quickly and helping to keep it from becoming moldy, and the lemon will help keep the color of the shrunken head light and uniform.
The best way to dry your apple is to hang it from a string. Try not to hang it directly in front of a window that receives a lot of sunshine; the warmth and brightness can encourage rot. You also want to avoid very moist areas, such as the kitchen sink or near the washing machine in the laundry room.
Please note that your shrunken head will take up to two weeks to dry. If you need a finished product sooner, try a vegetable dehydrator, or turn your oven to its lowest setting (200 degrees or less is ideal) and heat the apple for 3-6 hours, until dry and shriveled.
Once your apple is fully dried and shrunken, you can display it as is, or you may add details if you wish. Glue some faux hair onto the stem if you’ve left it on, or directly onto the top of the head if the stem has fallen off. The cloves you inserted for placement may have softened during the drying time; replace them for very beady, dark eyes. (Leave them out for a sunken-eyed look.)
Take your rice grains and glue them into the mouth area for teeth. For this detail, the more jagged, the better; place them at angles, or glue one or two into the top lip and just one on the bottom.
However you choose to display your proud creations, you’re sure to get comments from impressed friends, including “How did you make those?” Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with us!