Helpful Halloween tips on choosing, carving and displaying a jack-o-lantern
You will need:
- a pumpkin
- a short knife, such as a steak knife or a pumpkin carving tool (available at most grocery stores)
- a longer knife, such as a vegetable knife
- a large spoon with a bit of an edge (not a wooden or plastic serving spoon) or a pumpkin-scraping tool (available at most grocery stores)
- a face design, homemade or from a template
Choosing a pumpkin
Whether you choose a pumpkin from a grocery store, a pumpkin stand at a corner lot or go to a farm to pick your own, for a great jack-o-lantern there are a few basic traits to look for in a pumpkin.
Make sure the pumpkin can stand on its own. In the dirt they can create a depression that prevents them from falling over. Test your pumpkin choices on a smooth, flat surface to make sure they don’t fall over.
Look for a pumpkin that has a section of vine still attached. A long trailing vine can be left attached for character or a shorter piece to act as a handle. Pumpkin “lids” without vine handles can be difficult to hold, especially when they are slimy with pumpkin guts or hot from candle flame.
Pumpkins are individuals, they have smooth skin, dimpled skin and scars. They are large and small, flattened, rounded, tall, short and uneven. Each has a different “character” and every one has a use as a jack-o-lantern. A scarred pumpkin might make a great Frankenstein or pirate, dimpled and pocked for an evil old witch or one perfectly smooth and round for a baby-faced jack-o-lantern. Groupings of different sizes and shapes can represent a family or a larger scene.
First, wash your pumpkin. They rarely come “clean” even if you purchased them at the grocery store. Make sure you have all of your tools at hand: carving implements, scooping implements and at least two large bowls for the innards. Lay newspaper or some other absorbent cloth on the table or counter you plan on using; this gets messy! Gloves aren’t necessary, but if you don’t like slimy hands and arms, get the kind that go to your elbow or put on an apron or other protection for your clothes. Pumpkin guts don’t stain, but they are pretty disgusting.
Using a pencil or other light marking instrument, mark a rounded teardrop around the pumpkin’s “handle” about half of the diameter of the pumpkin. The opening should be large enough to put your hand in with tools and pull them out full, with a closed fist. If you are planning a vampire -faced design you might use the point of the teardrop as a “widow’s peak,” otherwise the point of the teardrop should face the back of the pumpkin.
Using a small, sharp knife or pumpkin cutting tool, angle the cut inwards, to create a larger diameter hole on the outside than is made on the inside. This will prevent the lid from falling into the pumpkin when it’s replaced later. The lid will still be attached from the inside. Using a longer knife, pull up on the lid while you slip the knife in to cut the connections inside. Pull the lid off and remove the unnecessary attached part that trails into the pumpkin.
If your pumpkin’s teardrop shape is facing the back of the pumpkin, take the lid and cut off the teardrop point. This will create a vent for the candle’s heat to escape, rather than building up inside of the pumpkin, cooking it and possibly causing burns to anyone handling the pumpkin.
Using a large spoon or scooping tool, remove the guts from the pumpkin. Save the seeds to salt and bake for a delicious snack. Scrape the walls of the pumpkin carefully. If the walls of the pumpkin are especially thick, an inch or more, scrape the walls to make the next step easier.
Rinse the pumpkin one more time to remove the pumpkin gut slime, then dry the outside. It’s time to carve!
Carving the pumpkin
There are several options for choosing your pumpkin’s face. The oldest and most traditional is to hand-draw a face on the pumpkin, then cut it out with a steak knife or some other sharp, slightly serrated, narrow-bladed knife. The second option is to purchase a paper template as part of a pumpkin kit and use the included roller-marker to transfer the design from the paper to the pumpkin’s skin. Be sure to tape the paper to the pumpkin first to make sure the paper stays in place.
Once your design is transferred, use a narrow-bladed cutting tool to begin to cut out the design. Make sure the cut goes all the way through your pumpkin’s flesh. Partially attached pieces may rip or break the design when removed.
Cut on the outside of the markings to avoid defacing the skin and cut out large, easy sections first. You can go back for the detail work later. When you remove a section, push from the inside out to avoid breaking parts off that you want attached.
If you do break a piece of the pumpkin off, use a small section of paper-clip to pin the pieces back together.
When you finish, give your pumpkin a rinse to remove any slime from the outside, dry it off and replace the lid.
Displaying your pumpkin
Candles are traditional; tea-lights are the easiest and safest. One of the creepiest ways to display a carved pumpkin is to use a bicycle tail light set on a blink-mode. Make sure the pumpkin is safe from squirrels and raccoons; both love fresh pumpkin meals. If your pumpkin dries out, you can soak it in a bucket or tub of water, but if your pumpkin rots or molds there is nothing you can do but try again.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Arwyn Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org.