Glowing, gruesome or giggly, carved pumpkins are a ubiquitous symbol of autumn, the end of harvest time and Halloween. It can be a fun tradition for friends and family to get together and transform this orange fruit into delightful or devilish jack-o'-lanterns.
There are a surprising number of pumpkin varieties beyond the traditional orange type you're used to. These are usually smaller and finer textured than traditional jack-o'-lantern pumpkins. There are even very unusual and flavorful heirloom pumpkins.
But at this time of year, most folks opt for the basic orange pumpkin that can be easily carved and illuminated by a candle placed inside. To find the best jack-o'-lantern pumpkin, look for one with a flat bottom and at least one side that is nicely rounded for the face.
Turning a pumpkin into a jack-o'-lantern is a simple, fun process, but it can be a bit messy. While kids love to be involved, the truth is that cutting into a pumpkin takes some strength and dexterity. So, while young children can scoop out the insides and draw the design, it is best to let an adult do the actual carving.
To begin, cut a “cap” out of the stem end of the pumpkin. Aim the knife at an inward angle, instead of a perfectly vertical cut, creating a top that will fit back onto the shell without falling inside.
Use a metal spoon to scoop out the seeds and fibrous flesh in the center of the pumpkin. Cut the fibers hanging from the cap so they do not hang down onto the lighted candle. You can use an apple corer to make a vent hole in the cap and to create a “candle holder” in the bottom of the pumpkin.
A pencil works well to draw the outline of your design. Be creative and have fun. It can be a basic face with round eyes, a triangle nose and a gapped-tooth mouth, or it can be something much more creative with ears and eyebrows and slanted eyes, or even a Halloween scene instead of a face. You can find patterns for other designs in craft stores and on the Internet. Just cut out the pattern, tape it to the pumpkin and trace the pattern with a pencil before cutting. A fine-bladed boning knife or coping saw works best for cutting tricky designs.
If you want to leave the top on the jack-o'-lantern after it is lit, use a short candle that is less than half as tall as the pumpkin.
Ever wonder how the jack-o'-lantern tradition originated? Click here to learn more about the history of Halloween and pumpkin carving.
Share your tips and tricks to carve better jack-o'-lanterns by posting a comment below.