One of our favorite fall activities in my family is writing and drawing on our squash. Unlike pumpkin carving, which takes place on harvested pumpkins and requires you to remove sections of its flesh, squash writing and drawing happens when the squash is still on the vine. A couple weeks before the harvest, we go out and carve designs onto the still maturing fruit, which then scar over and create beautiful designs that we can display once harvested. It’s always been a tradition—I remember doing it even as a little girl. My dad, who is now 81, has kept the tradition of this autumn artform alive, though he doesn’t remember when he himself started it more than 50 years ago.
The fun thing about writing and drawing on squash is that it can be done by all ages! My 81-year-old dad is still doing it and so is my 8-year-old niece. And my daughter started squash drawing when she was just 2!
Winter squash, like butternuts and pumpkins, work the best for this project because they store well, but you can use zucchini even though you may not get to enjoy your designs for long before it’s time to cook it. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on using winter squash.
Plan on having your squash-drawing party one to two weeks before the final frost. This gives the squash enough time to scar over and be ready to harvest before the end of the season.
There are several different tools you can use for drawing—basically anything sharp will work. Some options include nails, pocket knives and cooking knives. My favorite squash-drawing tools are different sizes of nails.
Pick out the squash you want to draw on or, if you’re adventurous, pick out several. Some fruit work better for drawing on and some better for writing on. To see if a particular squash is usable, test it by making a little scratch somewhere where it won’t show on the drawing or writing you’ve planned. You should see a little bit of juice seep out of the fruit.
Start drawing using your sharp object of choice, pressing about 1/8 inch into the skin of the squash. Don’t press in too deep, as this can cause the squash to rot, but go deep enough that it will scar up as it matures on the vine. This scarring is where the beauty of your work takes place.
If you like to work free-hand, just start drawing, or take a paper and pencil and sketch it out first to get an idea of what you want to create. You can also gently outline your design on the squash with a pencil or a washable marker.
Plan ahead for decorations you’d like to use throughout fall and the holiday season. We like to carve “Happy Halloween” and “Happy Thanksgiving” on some squash and then have them for decorations at our Halloween party and Thanksgiving dinner. It’s also fun to carve names: My parents always carve their names together on a squash. Also, use the shape of each unique squash as inspiration for fun designs or animals.
Wait one to two weeks for the squash to scar up properly before harvesting your work. Typically, winter squash are harvested once the vine dies back or the stem has turned from green to brown. This would be a good time to harvest your decorated squash.
It’s fun to take photos while you’re carving and after they’ve scarred up. It makes for great memories, and they’re also fun to share in the forms of holiday cards or on social media.