Ask any thirty something or above in Northern Ireland about their childhood Halloweens & in particular what designs they carved into their pumpkins and they'll reply the same thing, "pumpkins? You mean turnips, right?".
Because in the 80s in October a nation of spoons would get bent out of shape trying to scoop solid, rock hard turnip insides out. A very simple face would be cut into the vegetable and a candle placed inside filling the whole house with a very 'organic' smell, to use a euphemism for the holiday scent Yankee Candle need never produce!
Then, about ten years ago we seemed to take a funny turn and Halloween went from a one night affair into something closer to how the Americans celebrate. Home decor, garden signs, spooky themed food and drink, and ... pumpkins. We knew the States used pumpkins rather than turnips from watching their tv and movies, but what I didn't know was that turnips came first there too.
Spar NI sent us a Halloween care package today, with locally produced foods to get us in the mood for half term. Inside with a carving kit was both a pumpkin AND a turnip, to keep everyone happy. Also included some facts, and I was very interested to know that it was us Irish emigrating to the States in the mid-19th century that brought the Halloween celebrations, including turnip carving. Here's where it gets interesting- when they were unable to find the turnips, instead they use pumpkins- so turnips always were first, even there.
They would hang the lit up lanterns on their door to ward away lost souls and evil spirits.
You can buy Armagh grown turnips or North Down pumpkins at your local Spar, as well as a selection of locally produced treats. Your traditional monkey nuts are from Portadown, as are the toffee and chocolate apples made by Fosters.
If you are feeling adventurous why not visit the Spar NI recipe page, where there are several Halloween themed foods to make yourself.