Creepy Craft: How to Make Apple Shrunken Heads

A delightfully sinister family craft using seasonal apples.

Apple Shrunken heads

Apple Shrunken heads

Make your own shrunken heads using fall apples.

Make your own shrunken heads using fall apples.

Does anyone remember Vincent Price’s shrunken head kits from back in the '70s? Complete with sculpting tools, templates, twine for hanging your creepy creations from your belt or backpack, and an amazing drying chamber that could be attached to any household lamp, you could create your own horrifying shrunken heads from ordinary apples!

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to craft my own horrifying heads just like the master of horror and my delight with the medium continues to this day. The amazing drying chamber wasn’t all that amazing and the accessories were all but pointless, but man those wrinkly little faces were cool.

Vincent Price’s astonishing head-shrinking laboratory has been off the market for quite a while now. It seems toys that encourage children to play with knives and open light bulb sockets without supervision have fallen out of fashion.  With all due respect to the master of the macabre, the best part of the kit wasn’t even included. Making your own shrunken heads is as easy today as it was in 1976 without mom complaining you’ve left your bedroom light on for days.

It all starts with apples. Pick firm, unbruised apples and remember the “shrunken” in shrunken heads. Once dehydrated, they will shrink to about half of their original size, so larger apples are preferred. Peel the apples and your canvas is ready to go.

Use a paring knife and toothpicks for detail work to carve ghoulish faces into the flesh. Shrunken head apples are a forgiving medium, as dehydration distorts the faces, emphasizes larger features and deepens every crease and crevice. For pointy or bulbous noses, cut away all of the apple around the prominent proboscis. For sunken eyes, bore wide, deep sockets. Not included in Price’s original kit, but readily available in the kitchen, use whole cloves, dried beans, long-grain rice or unpopped popcorn kernels to craft eyes, teeth or hideous warts.

Once the head is ready for shrinking, soak the sculpted heads in a solution of water, salt and lemon juice to prepare it for dehydration. Use half a lemon and a tablespoon of salt per two cups of water (scale up depending on how many heads will be soaked). Lemon juice will keep the apple from turning brown and the salt helps pull water from the apple for faster drying. Soak the heads for 15-20 minutes.

Space the heads on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet and place on the center rack of an oven set to 160 degrees. Shrink time may be up to 24 hours, but will vary depending on the size of the apple and design. Alternately, heads may be set aside at room temperature to dry over several weeks.

Once dry, shrunken heads may be decorated with accessories like cloth eye patches or yarn hair or accented with food coloring.

Attach a piece of twine to hang in doorways (or from your backpack), fashion doll bodies for your spooky skulls, or skewer them onto sticks to arrange a boo-tiful Halloween bouquet.

If crafting with children, always provide supervision when using knives or other sharp objects.

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