Pumpkin carving takes only a little bit of skill, but a lot of patience. Pumpkin Masters, the maker of several popular pumpkin-carving kits, offers many tips to a successful jack o’ lantern based around three topics: pumpkin selection, proper tools and pumpkin preservation.
Choosing a pumpkin
Choose a design before you choose a pumpkin. That way you can make sure you get a pumpkin that is big enough and the right shape. Make sure the pumpkin is smooth and evenly colored and that it is flat on the bottom so it sits upright. Watch out for pumpkins with bruises, soft spots or mold, because this may indicate rot. Don’t carry a pumpkin by its stem, or it might break.
A pumpkin carving kit will make the entire process much easier. Kits usually come with a poker for transferring designs, saws for carving and scrapers. They even have power saws to cut down on the carving time.
When cutting a lid, add a tooth at the back as a guide for replacing the lid. Use a large kitchen knife to cut the lid, angling the blade toward the center of the pumpkin to create a wedge that prevents the lid from falling in.
Scrape the inner pulp away from the area you plan to carve until the wall of the pumpkin is 1 inch thick. Anything thicker makes it difficult to carve, and anything thinner can dry out and shrivel. According to Lisa Davis, a melon baller is great for scraping out the guts. You can save the pumpkin seeds and make a toasted treat when you’re done, too.
Trim the pattern, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the design. Tape the pattern to the pumpkin, making small folds where needed to make it fit smoothly.
Use a poker to transfer the pattern to the pumpkin and then remove the pattern. Tracing the lines with a pen or pencil can help you see the design more clearly, since at first glance it will just look like a bunch of dots.
Hold the pumpkin securely in your lap and use a small detail saw to cut out the design. Hold the saw like a pencil and saw steadily at a 90 degree angle with a continuous up-and-down motion.
Prevent a freshly carved jack o’ lantern from drying out by placing petroleum jelly on the cut edges. Spray the pumpkin with water, cover it with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator when it’s not on display to help prevent decomposition.
Soak or spray the pumpkin with a bleach water mixture to help ward off mold and kill insects for longer preservation.
If your pumpkin shows signs of shriveling, soak it in water for several hours (try a 5-gallon bucket). The more shriveled the pumpkin, the longer it needs to soak. Make sure to dry the inside of the pumpkin as much as possible with a towel to prevent mold growth.
For more tips and free carving patterns, visit www.pumpkinmasters.com.
Toasted pumpkin seeds
When carving the pumpkin, separate the seeds from the pulp as much as possible. Scoop the seeds into a colander and rinse them, picking out other “guts” and strings as needed. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and dry overnight. Once dry, pick out any remaining pulp.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put the seeds in a bowl and coat them with olive oil, melted butter or spray butter, and season lightly with salt. You can also try different spice combinations such as curry, garlic, sugar and cinnamon or seasoning salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring or tossing occasionally, until they are golden brown. Let them cool, and enjoy!
Calling all crafters!
Christmas is only 12 weeks away, and Haute Homemade needs your help. From presents to decorations, we’d like you to share your favorite holiday crafts. E-mail ideas, photos and how-tos to Deirdre Long, firstname.lastname@example.org. If we like your project, you might be featured in an upcoming column. Happy crafting!