Shrunken Apple Heads
A Shrunken Apple Head
Carve a Shrunken Head from an Apple - Ghoulishly easy fun!
Making shrunken heads from apples is a traditional American folk art. The craft probably had its origins with Native Americans who used the natural materials available to them to make dolls. The settlers from Europe continued the tradition, often using apples for the dolls heads. The doll's head was made by peeling and carving a face on an apple and then drying it. The carved features on the apple change as the apple dries, so one ever knows how the shrunken dried apple face will look when the process is completed. Each shrunken apple head's face is unique with a personality all of its own!
Add a little evil intent to this art form and they can become inexpensive, creepy shrunken head Halloween decorations. Since the apple heads can take about 2 weeks to complete the dehydration process, it is important to start the project when the apple harvest begins - several weeks before Halloween!
(All photos by the author, Vicki Green - PNW Travels unless otherwise credited)
Ingredients Needed to Make Appleheads
Choosing the Right Apples for Carving
Supplies to Make a Shrunken Apple Head
A short list of common household items!
Fresh apples (not too soft!)
Vegetable Peeler (for peeling and carving)
Knife and/or Pumpkin Carving Kit (for carving)
Wire, sticks or string
Peppercorns, whole cloves, peas, beans or similar items for eyes
Rice, barley or other grains or seeds for teeth
Your Choice of other Decorative items
Tips for Selecting the Apples for Your Appleheads
Although you can use damaged or fallen apples, for best results use apples that are fairly round, firm and crisp. Some people recommend using Red Delicious or Golden Delicious varieties. Other people like Granny Smith apples. Larger apples can be a little easier for carving the face, especially for children, but if you have free apples available to you, why not experiment!
Peel the Apple
Use a Vegetable Peeler to Peel the Apple
A vegetable peeler like this one can be found in most kitchens. In addition to peeling the apples, I like that the end also makes a great tool for carving facial features like eyes and the mouth.
Step 1 - Peeling the Apple
As much apple as possible can be removed, or a little can be left on the top which will look like a little hat when the apple is done drying. I find that using a fruit or potato peeler makes the job easier and safer than peeling with a knife. A peeler also makes spirals of apple skins that can be dried and used to look like hair, a witches hat or other decorations.
Carve a Face in the Apple
Step 2: Carve the Face of the Apple
Use whatever tools work for you to carve the face in the apple. Some recommended tools include a paring knife, pumpkin carving tools and the end of a vegetable peeler. The most important thing to remember when carving the face is that the apple will shrink approximately 50% when dried so make the features large so they will still stand out after the drying is complete. Peas, peppercorns,cloves and other round objects can be placed into the eye sockets to look like eyes and rice or seeds can be put in the mouth which will look like teeth. The best part is that you really can't make a mistake. The apple never turns out exactly the way you expect anyway!
Give Your Carved Apple a Bath in Lemon Juice and Salt
Step 3 - Soak the Apple in Lemon Juice and Salt
Mix 1 cup of lemon juice with one tablespoon of salt in a bowl. Giving the apple head a bath in this mixture for a few minutes will help prevent the apple from molding. Roll the apple around or pour the mixture over the apple to make sure all surfaces of the apple are covered.
Materials for Making Eyes and Teeth
Step 3 - Add Eyes and Teeth to your Carved Apple
Add scary details to you applehead with eyes made from dried peas, whole cloves, peppercorns, seeds or even plastic googly eyes. Push clove stems or other eye material back into the apple in the eye socket. As the apple dries it will shrink and the eyeball will show. If they don't stay in the eye socket after the apple shrinks and dries, they can be glued in place with craft glue. Teeth can be made from rice or seeds. Cucumber seeds make great fangs for vampire shrunken heads!
Drying an Applehead
Step 4 - Watch the Fun as your Shrunken Apple Head Dries!
The apple may take up to two weeks to dry. If you live in a humid area you may need to help the process along. One way is to heat your oven to 200 degrees, turn the oven off and then place the apple inside the oven on a tray and shut the oven door. This may need to be repeated several times. The apple should be turned so it will dry evenly. It is fun to watch the changes each day as the apple head dries!
You can either dry naturally in a warm, dry place or use a food dehydrator to speed up the process.
Apple Heads Dried in a Food Dehydrator - Come back to see the photos added each dayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Food Dehydrators - Speed up the Drying Process
Food Dehydrators are handy for preserving your fresh fruits and vegetables and for making jerky. They also work great to speed up the process for making your shrunken apple heads.
Food Dehydrator for Drying Appleheads
The food dehydrator used to dry my apples is an older model of this Nesco Food dehydrator. I have had it for over 20 years and it is still going strong!
See how easy it is to make a Shrunken Head Display!
The Apple Head that was Dried Naturally - Watch as it Transforms into a Shrunken Head!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Drying Appleheads with Silica Gel
Apple heads can also be dried faster with a quick-dry silica gel method that is described in a book published by the Applehead Museum. The book also includes many other useful tips for creating appleheads.
Decorating Your Shrunken Head
Step 5 - Finishing Touches
After the drying process is completed, glue in any eyes or teeth that may not have stayed in place. If desired add hair made from moss, cotton, dried apple peels, yarn or other materials. You can also add hats or paint them with food coloring.
Apple Jack O'Lantern Head?
Some Ideas for Displaying Your Shrunken Apple Heads
Shrunken apple heads can be used to garnish a dish at a Halloween buffet or potluck. Put several on sticks to make a centerpiece or make a tree of creepy hanging shrunken heads.
The Vincent Price Shrunken Head Kits and Memorabilia on eBay - Vintage Shrunken Head Apple Carving Kits from the 70s
Back in the 1970s, there was a Vincent Price Shrunken head kit that could be purchased to make shrunken heads from apples.
More photos of dried shrunken apple heads - No two are alike!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shrunken Heads Made From Apples - Carving apples for Halloween
Although apple heads are an old traditional folk art, making ghoulish shrunken heads is a wicked twist for Halloween that many people have never tried.