Ready, steady, spook! 10 pumpkin-free Halloween treats – from meringue bones to Nigella Lawson’s pus

I will never understand why pumpkins have the monopoly on Halloween, as they have for two or three decades. People used to make lanterns from turnips, or swedes, but pumpkins are just easier to carve even if there is nothing remotely scary about them, just as there is nothing melancholy about a cabbage or spellbinding about kohlrabi. And don’t even get me started on “pumpkin-spice”. So, in the spirit of advocating a pumpkin-free Halloween, here are 10 spooky recipes, all mercifully created without the tyranny of Big Pumpkin.

Let’s start with Jamie Oliver’s magnificently titled zombie brain, which is actually a big old celeriac, roasted whole and served with mushroom sauce. It is delicious, and I have to assume that it resembles an actual zombie’s brain. What is more, if you’re my children – who would probably have a meltdown if I ever tried to serve them a mushroom – then it’s probably very scary, too.

Eight years ago, student food blogger Melody Moxham created a three-course Halloween vegetarian meal, and while I have to discount her main dish for succumbing to the lure of the pumpkin, her starter is pretty great. It’s beetroot batwing soup, which is to say beetroot soup served with pitta bread cut into the shape of a bat. That’s spooky, right?

While we’re discussing soup, I should mention Michael Bremner’s bull’s blood gazpacho. The end of October might be a bit chilly for gazpacho but, if we have another freakishly warm spike, this deserves room in your repertoire. It’s cabbage, onion, pepper, celery, cucumber and chilli, soaked in red wine vinegar and blitzed. You will notice that this soup doesn’t include real bull’s blood. Only a maniac would do that.

I have never met Nigel Slater, so this is conjecture on my part, but I don’t think the man is very Halloweeny. In 2007, he was tasked with creating a Halloween dish, and came up with chicken with black-eyed beans. But even if it doesn’t exactly scream “spooky”, the resulting dish is hearty and warming, and topped with a cheesy breadcrumb crust that blasts it into the stratosphere. For added creepiness, serve from a cauldron, as per the recipe’s introduction.

If you’re trying to make scary food, it is much, much easier to concentrate on sweets. Yotam Ottolenghi’s honeycomb and chocolate monster feet are a perfect example. Honeycomb is famously tricky to make, but stick with it and you will end up with cute little triangles that you can dip in chocolate and decorate with flaked almond toenails. These are adorable.

Similarly, Claire Ptak has the right idea with her meringue bones. These are the easiest things in the world – just meringue piped into the shape of bones – and they look classically Halloweeny. All that, plus bad for your teeth. All boxes ticked, not a pumpkin in sight.

Just as easy is Good Housekeeping’s Halloween chocolate bark, which is basically melted chocolate that has been poured into a tray and reset. What makes this Halloweeny are the spooky faces sticking out of the chocolate – made of gummy teeth and marshmallows with eyes drawn on them – and swirly white chocolate ghosts. Spine-tinglingly effective.

For something a bit more formal, Tarek Malouf’s spiderweb cheesecake does the job nicely. It’s a simple set vanilla cheesecake – the Halloween element is in the decoration. Simply pipe concentric chocolate circles on top of the cheesecake, then run lines outwards from the centre with a toothpick. See? Spiderweb.

And now, in a sentence I never thought I’d write, Nigella Lawson’s pus. This is genius, a visually disgusting recipe that couldn’t be easier. Dissolve lime jelly in a little boiling water, then tip a load of milk in and leave it to set. And there you have it; very realistic pus. Fully understanding what Halloween is about, Nigella recommends serving it with her recipe for “blood clots”. Revolting, yet delicious.

Hey, forget what I said earlier about not cooking with blood. Plenty of cuisines around the world do it, and my recommendation would be to try Blodplättar, a traditional Scandinavian blood pancake. It is, at least according to Best Recipe For, almost the same as an ordinary pancake, although it contains a small amount of dried ginger and two cups of pig’s blood. Behold, an iron-rich, bright red pancake. Happy Halloween!

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