How to Carve the Perfect Pumpkin
How to Carve the Perfect Pumpkin
Fall has officially begun, bringing with it hot apple cider, hayrides, and pumpkin carving. To find a great pumpkin this season, head to your favorite pumpkin patch and look for Connecticut Field, Howden, and Baby Bear pumpkins (they’re best for carving). Choose a pumpkin that’s symmetrical enough to rest squarely on a flat surface. Pass over any with bruises, cracks, or broken stems—they tend to go bad more quickly. Plan on waiting to carve your pumpkin until a day or two before Halloween. Once they have been carved, pumpkins have short shelf lives. And if the temperature is going to drop below freezing, bring your jack-o’-lantern indoors for the night. Now that you’ve picked a great pumpkin, check out these tips for easy carving!
Preparing Your Pumpkin
Draw a pattern directly on the pumpkin with a water-based marker first. If you don’t like what you see, you can erase it easily with a damp sponge and have a do-over. If you are going to make a face on your pumpkin, draw a line down the center of the pumpkin where the face will be. This will help you to stay balanced. Mark the position for the nose a little below the middle of your line and mark lines for the eyes. Draw in the rest of the features, erasing and redrawing if you need to. If you are not making a face, draw your design and rework it until you are satisfied. When you’re happy with the face or the design, draw over your lines with a permanent marker. Wipe off your temporary marks with a damp cloth.
Cleaning Out Your Pumpkin
This is the messy part! If you plan to illuminate the carved pumpkin with a candle, cut a hole in the top with a sharp, straight-edged knife to allow heat and smoke to escape. Then scoop out the insides with a spoon; the kind of serrated spoon designed for eating grapefruit works very well. Be sure to cut the lid at an angle, so the outside diameter is larger than the inside. This will prevent the top from falling into the pumpkin when it shrinks. If you do not plan to light up your carved pumpkin, you can cut a hole in the back (where it will not be seen) and scoop the insides out that way. This will make it look like you were able to carve your pumpkin while it was completely intact—an interesting way to impress neighbors and trick-or-treaters alike!
Carving Your Pumpkin
Rather than using knives, pick up a set of small serrated metal saws, which are widely available in carving kits. They are a safer alternative and allow younger children to get in on the fun. Of course, kids should carve only with an adult supervising. Always carve away from yourself and never hold the knife in a stabbing position. Try to keep a portion of the knife blade in the pumpkin, and use a slow, steady sawing motion to carve. Start close to the center and work outward.
Tips from the Pros
Cut out the larger features in sections, rather than trying to cut the entire piece out at once. For details, use an X-ACTO knife, and to make circles or curves, use the tip of a vegetable peeler. Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin. Reattach any sections that are accidentally removed by using toothpicks to hold them in place. For younger children, consider letting them paint their pumpkins, or they can draw designs on them with markers rather than actually carving.
Displaying your Pumpkin
Display your carved pumpkin in a cool, dry location (under an awning or on a covered porch) to make it last as long as possible—again, shelf life is really only a few days. Flatten a spot inside the base of the pumpkin so the candle will sit up straight. Avoid digging too deep for your candle spot because it can promote rotting. Seal moisture into your pumpkin by coating the cut surfaces with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil. Don’t forget to bring your pumpkin inside if the night temperatures will dip below freezing.