Yep, it’s getting close to that time again – pumpkin carving time! Time to get out the tools and carve a great Jack-O’-Lantern!
At the Youngblood house we usually waited until close to Halloween to carve our pumpkins. It really got my son into the spirit and it also helped the pumpkins continue to look fresh for the trick or treat parade. But we all know that anytime in October is a good time to start perfecting the pumpkin so, I thought I would share the Jack-O’-Lantern carving tips and tricks that I have learned over the years.
You want a fine looking pumpkin – either for the kiddos, the trick or treaters, or the contest with the neighbors! No matter what the reason, success can’t be had unless you know what you are doing. From the minute you step into the pumpkin patch to the final lighting of the menacing Jack-O’-Lantern, here’s how we do it…
First – Get a Great Gourd
Select A Healthy Pumpkin – When you’re choosing a pumpkin, try to pick one that’s free of nicks, bruises, and cuts. Look for a sturdy stem that doesn’t feel too bendable and for consistent color all the way around. Knock or thump on the skin like you would a melon. If you hear a hollow sound, the pumpkin is ripe. Also, check that the pumpkin has a flat bottom so it sits upright and make sure it is not rotting where it’s been resting on the ground.
Pick The Right Size – If you’re planning an elaborate pumpkin carving, go big. But if you simply plan on the kids drawing faces on their pumpkins then pick up several small to medium samples for them to draw a few different designs.
Time It Right – Most pumpkins will be rotten beyond recovery after a week and a half to two weeks (which is why we wait until at least the 20th of October). With this in mind, buy your pumpkin about a week or so before Halloween
It’s Not A Handle – Never pick up or carry a pumpkin by the stem. It can break off very easily, leaving the pumpkin with an open wound that invites rot and a whole lot of yuck-i-ness!
Next – Do Some Crafty Cutting
Design It – Rookies should pick a simple, bold pattern. Once you master the basics, then move on to something more difficult and intricate. To get started, print out or draw a pattern on a piece of paper. Use small sharp scissors or a razor knife to cut out the areas you will be carving into the pumpkin. Tape the template onto the pumpkin and use a marker to trace the carving lines. Cutting slits in the paper will help it to conform to the round surface. Another method is to tape the outline to the pumpkin and use a nail or large pushpin to score the carving lines onto the pumpkin. Connect the dots as you carve.
Cut It – Pick the right knife. A long serrated knife, or a pumpkin-carving knife with teeth, will be needed to cut through the thick flesh. Put your knife at a 45-degree angle so the the lid will have a place to rest when you replace it. If you cut straight down, the lid will fall through. Use a sawing motion and take your time cutting along the outside edge of the marker lines so there is no marker residue.
Clean It– Use a large, heavy metal serving spoon or ice cream scoop to scrape the insides. If you will be lighting the pumpkin, the back wall should be scraped as smooth as possible since this is where the light will be reflected.
Give It A Long Life – Soak the cleaned pumpkin for two hours in a bleach water solution of one teaspoon bleach to one gallon of water. Dry thoroughly, then rub inside and out, including all cut edges, with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to prevent shriveling. If the pumpkin begins to shrivel, repeat the process. The soaking time will depend upon how dried out the pumpkin has become.
Light It – If you will be lighting your Jack-O’-Lantern with a candle, be sure to leave the lid off to avoid any fire hazard. Use a votive candle in a glass holder or tea lights in a metal case. If you want to leave the lid on, carve a hole in the unseen back side of the pumpkin to act as a chimney. Never leave a candle lit Jack-O’-Lantern unattended for any length of time. A small battery-operated, flameless candle is a safer choice than traditional candles.
Keep It Looking Good – Put the pumpkin in a plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator when not in use.
Finally – My Three “Pumpkin Pro” Tips
One – Get a white pumpkin, which can give a really spooky look to your Jack-O’-Lantern.They can also be painted more easily than orange pumpkins and they make great cooking pumpkins as well.
Two – Cut off the bottom of the pumpkin, as well as the top. It will be more stable and easier to carve. If you are using a candle inside, be sure the opening in the bottom is large enough to fit over the candle. Place the candle on a fire-proof base then you can easily lift off the Jack-O’-Lantern to light the candle.
Three – Sprinkle the bottom side of the pumpkin lid with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves to let your Jack-O’-Lantern do double duty as a great smelling air freshener.
Good luck and and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!