How to Carve a Pumpkin
What would Halloween be without a carved pumpkin sitting on your porch or at the window looking out at all the trick or treaters? Make this Halloween special by carving your own. Take delight in the smiling faces as the trick or treaters enjoy or get spooked by your own creation. You don't need to see to create a great pumpkin for Halloween!
- Pick out the nicest and healthiest looking pumpkin. Make sure you don't buy it too long before Halloween or it will rot before the big night.
- Take a braille stylus and score a line about 5 inches from the top of the pumpkin right around the circumference. You can make it a jagged line if you like.
- Use a large carving knife and carefully slice the top half of the pumpkin off using the scored line for guidance.
- Carefully remove the top and set it aside.
- Use a large spoon or a scoop and remove all of the filling and seeds. Place them into a bowl to be used later.
- Use the braille stylus to "draw" a face on the front of your pumpkin for reference. Make it as spooky or creative as you like, but remember not to cut out too much, the more pumpkin you remove from the face, the more likely your jack-o-lantern will cave in. The eyes and nose are often shaped like triangles. Alternatively, you can download a pumpkin carving template from the internet to use as a reference pattern.
- Cut the shapes out using a sharp knife, carving tools, or a dremel.
- Replace the lid that you had set aside.
- Fill the insides with LED lights and watch it glow.
- Turn your pumpkin upside down. Look closely or feel the bottom, see the circle where the pumpkin has been resting on the ground? Using a Sharpie marker or braille stylus, trace the pattern, or simply take a sharp knife and cut around the edge of that circle. (This method is an improvement on cutting off the top for several reasons: a) it saves time and energy by cutting out the largest amount of stringy pulp and seeds, b) if you use a candle, it allows you to set it on a small candle plate, upon a flat surface, giving you better stability, and c) it allows you to avoid the fire-hazard of candles all together. A safer alternative is cutting an additional notch from your circle in the back of the pumpkin allowing you to plug in a small strand of Christmas lights, a nightlight, or other small, low-heat electric light. Be creative, even a small LED booklight will suffice.)
Carved pumpkins can go bad after two weeks. Carve your pumpkin only a few days before Halloween or it may start to shrivel up and cave in. Although, you can prolong the life by rubbing some petroleum jelly on the exposed parts right after you cut the pumpkin - this will help to reduce the shriveling.
Pumpkin seeds are good to eat (like sunflower seeds) if you place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with a little salt, and toast them in the oven. See the Fred's Head Companion article Pumpkin Seeds for Halloween for more details. You can also plant the seeds to grow your own pumpkins (but keep in mind that this pumpkin is probably a cross between several types, and what you get when you plant will probably not look anything like this one).
If you carve the "lid" of the pumpkin out in a smooth line, it can be difficult to replace the lid in the same position you cut it off in. It can be helpful to carve a notch somewhere, in the back if you like, so that you can fit the lid back on easily.
A drywall jab-saw makes a great replacement for the old kitchen knife, especially for cutting off the top and any other large cuts. For intricate designs, a RotoZip type saw makes short and easy work of carving pumpkins. This is the saw commonly used for drywall, that looks like a small router and the blade looks like a drill but, but is designed to cut in any direction.
Do not allow small children near the knives. If children have picked out a "special" pumpkin and want to carve it themselves, invest in a "kiddie cutter" so they don't get hurt. An easier alternative for small children would be markers to draw a face, or Mr. Potato Head accessories to dress up their pumpkin.
Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?
Supposedly, it started with a man called Stingy Jack, who tricked the devil and in turn after his death wasn't allowed into hell. Instead, he was forced to wander the earth with only a coal to light his way. Stingy Jack put the coal in a carved out turnip, causing people to start referring to him as "Jack with the Lantern".
Soon, people began placing similar lanterns in their windows with carvings to scare Stingy Jack away. And so, the Jack 'o Lantern was born. The history channel has an excellent article on the full story here: http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/halloween/pumpkin.html.
If you're looking to start this age old tradition with your children, or are interested in kicking your carvings up a notch, we've picked some great websites to help you get started.
For the novice pumpkin carver, head on over to PumpkinCarving101.com where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about carving your jack 'o lantern and then some. Learn about different tools that can be used, traditional pumpkin carving, carving with stencils, the lifespan of a carved pumpkin and how to grow your own pumpkins. Don't miss the articles on the proper burial of your pumpkin, how to juggle pumpkins, and how to take photographs of your pumpkins.
This site might seem a little obsessive to some, but it's full of great information that's sure to help any pumpkin carver achieve their goals. http://www.pumpkincarving101.com
If you've been carving pumpkins for awhile, and are ready to do something new, try these great free pumpkin templates. You'll find many patriotic images (American Flag, the President, Statue of Liberty) as well as a mix-and-match section. If you don't see what you like, for a small fee you can subscribe to their even larger collection of templates. http://www.spookmaster.com/pumpkin-carving-patterns-freebies.htm
Another great site for both simple and complicated templates is Jack-O-Lantern.com. For the true computer geek they offer an assortment of emoticons, as well as a set of templates to create a "haunted forest". All templates are free, forever. http://www.jack-o-lantern.com
If you're looking for more fun and childish templates, be sure to stop by aHowlingGoodTime.com. This pumpkin farm has a very nice assortment of pumpkin faces. Choose from happy, sad, scary, howling, and more. http://www.ahowlinggoodtime.com/carving/patterns.shtml
Tips, tips, and more tips. That's what you'll find at Walt's Pumpkin Carving Pages. Learn how to get those templates from your computer (or book) onto the pumpkin, which carving tools do what, how to make your own patterns, as well as how to select the right pumpkin to carve. http://wls.wwco.com/garden/pumpkin.htm
Amy Fleeman is a Halloween loving Mama with two great kids, a Beagle, and a husband. She lives amongst the cornfields in a tiny town in Iowa. To get tons of Free Halloween Coloring Pages and other spooky goodies, please visit http://www.raisingourkids.com/hol/halloween/freehalloweencoloringpages.shtml.