Carve a Pumpkin

Edited by Kate Supino, Melissa Rae, Eng, VC

How to Carve a Pumpkin

Pumpkin carving is a family pastime that dates back for centuries. Pumpkins and squash come into season in the autumn, and they naturally lend themselves to the craft of carving. Once a pumpkin is carved, it gets a new name. A pumpkin is just a pumpkin until someone carves a design into it. Then it becomes a jack-o-lantern, and assumes a whole new aura of meaning.

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Jack-o-lanterns are popular as a Halloween decoration. The eerie light that is emitted from the insides of a lit jack-o-lantern is functional, festive and fun. Most frequently, jack-o-lanterns are set outside the front doors of houses during Halloween season. When children make the rounds to go trick-or-treating, the presence of a lit jack-o-lantern signifies that candy treats are not far away.

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Jack-o-lantern designs vary from the innocent to the frightening. They can be simple or intricate. In fact, towns often hold contests for the best jack-o-lantern carving design. There are also regional contests that are held for the fastest pumpkin carving. Since pumpkin carving is typically enjoyed as a family activity, rushing through the carving for the purposes of setting a speed record is best left to the professionals.

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Before you choose your pumpkin for carving, it helps to know the different varieties of pumpkins available. The pumpkin comes from the squash family, and there are dozens of sizes, shapes, colors and varieties within that family. Some varieties have come to be commonly used for eating, others for purely decorative purposes, and others for carving into jack-o-lanterns. Technically, you can carve any kind of squash into a jack-o-lantern, but there are common types of pumpkins that almost everyone uses.

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Sugar pumpkins, which are also known as "pie pumpkins," are usually utilized by cooks to make homemade pumpkin pie. They are about a quarter the size of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, and their taste is better for pie making. They measure roughly six to eight inches in diameter. One sugar pumpkin yields enough pumpkin pulp to make one pie. You could make a jack-o-lantern from a sugar pie, but due to their small size, it could get very tricky when it comes to carving out the design on the small surface area.

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Pumpkins that are ideal for making jack-o-lanterns are much larger than sugar pumpkins. They might weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds or more. The pulp from these larger pumpkins isn't ideal for pie making, but the seeds are fine and tasty for toasting. The larger pumpkins generate a lot of seeds; much more than a sugar pumpkin.

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Locating Your Pumpkin

These days, almost all supermarkets carry large pumpkins that are ideal for making jack-o-lanterns. Busy parents can pop a pumpkin into their shopping cart along with the rest of the groceries and call it a day. For added family enjoyment, however, seek out a local farm or festival in the fall. These places will usually have a pumpkin patch where youngsters can hand select a pumpkin to bring home. If you can't find a farm, or you live in a more urban area, look to your local farmer's market for a selection of pumpkins. If all else fails, seek out church fairs or town fundraisers in the fall time. These event organizers will often have a batch of pumpkins delivered and displayed on the lawn, so local kids can enjoy a farm-like atmosphere in which to go pumpkin picking. The process of finding and choosing the pumpkin can mark the beginning of fall for your family, and offers a wholesome, shared bonding experience.

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Selecting Your Pumpkin

Kate Supino Choose pumpkin with good stem.jpg

First of all, whichever pumpkin your young child selects is the perfect pumpkin. No matter what size it is, if you can afford it, smile, load it into your family car and bring it on home. Your child has few decisions they can make on their own. Let them make this one. You can always choose a second pumpkin to carve into a jack-o-lantern. The ideal pumpkin for carving will have a nice long stem on top, a flattish-bottom, and one side that is a little flatter than the others. The stem will make the lid attractive, the flat bottom will keep it stabilized with the candle inside, and the flat side will make it easier to carve.

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Choosing Sides

Kate Supino Find flat side.jpg

Now that you have your pumpkin home, next you have to choose on which side you will position your image. If you can, find the side that is the most flat. Cutting on a convex surface is dangerous, and it's easy to slip with your cutting instrument. The flatter the surface is where you are carving your jack-o-lantern design, the safer the whole process will be.

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Preparing the Work Surface

Carving a pumpkin is a messy activity. Don't do this on top of anything you don't want to get dirty, such as a nice tablecloth. You also don't want to gunk up your pumpkin and tools with newsprint. The insides of the pumpkin are moist, so when they come into contact with a newspaper, the print would come off onto your pumpkin. The best places to carve your pumpkins are, outside on a picnic table, inside on an old kitchen table, or on a kitchen table covered with a vinyl tablecloth.

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  1. 1
    Organize Your Supplies
    Kate Supino carving sets are nice for children.jpg
    Set out all your supplies. You'll need a carving kit (or sharp knife), a damp cloth, a design template of some kind, and some thumbtacks.
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  2. 2
    Cut Away the Lid
    Kate Supino circle the stem about 4 inches away.jpg
    Kate Supino cut lid at an angle.jpg
    Using your general cutting tool, measure about 4 inches away from the top center of the stem and cut a circle around the pumpkin to make the lid. Be sure to cut at a 45-degree angle. This will create a little flange on which the lid will sit, and will prevent the lid from falling into the pumpkin. Set the lid aside.
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  3. 3
    Scoop Out the Insides
    Kate Supino what you'll find under the lid.jpg
    Inside the pumpkin, you'll see a bunch of fibrous strands mixed in with pumpkin seeds. Shape your hand and fingers like a claw and pull at the strands. You'll be left with a handful of pumpkin seeds.
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  4. 4
    Put the seeds in a separate bowl
    Kate Supino put the seeds in a separate bowl.jpg
    Pumpkin seeds can be cleaned, dried and toasted. They make a healthful snack that is full of minerals like magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.
    Kate Supino put the scrapings in a bowl.jpg
    Kate Supino reach in and pull out the fibers.jpg
    The fibrous strands can be scraped away from the sides using the scraper that came with your carving kit, or a large spoon with a sharp edge. Keep scraping until the inside of the pumpkins is relatively smooth. This part of the pumpkin can be put into the kitchen garbage disposal, put in the trash, or added to your compost pile.
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  5. 5
    Clean up the Lid
    Kate Supino scrape the bottom of the lid.jpg
    The underside of the pumpkin lid will have some extra fibrous strands as well. Scrape these away with your scraper until you have an even surface. Don't worry about making it too neat. No one will see the underside of the lid. Also, don't trim away too much from the edge of the lid. As you burn a candle inside the jack-o-lantern, the edges of the lid will naturally shrink away. If you don't leave enough around the edge of the lid, the staying power of your jack-o-lantern lid will be compromised.
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  6. 6
    Attach Your Template
    Kate Supino templates make it easier.jpg
    Sometimes the carving set will come with a little template booklet. The template gets attached to the pumpkin, and makes it really easy to cut out the designated areas to make the design. If your kit doesn't come with a template, you can use a simple design from a Halloween coloring book. If you have no template at all, you can draw a face on the pumpkin freehand, using a marker. If you've never personally carved a pumpkin before, or if you're doing this project with kids, it's best to start with a simple design. Carving pumpkins is deceptively challenging, and you'll be happier and more satisfied with your results if you start with an easy template. Then, if you want you can always do something more intricate later on, once you've got the hang of it.
    Kate Supino tack the template to the pumpkin.jpg
    Cut out your template and attach it to the flat side of the pumpkin with thumbtacks. Be sure to leave extra space around the outside of the design. In other words, don't cut exactly on top of the design lines.
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  7. 7
    Cut Out the Sections
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    Follow the guidelines on the template, and cut out the sections of the design that will be removed. This is where a little carving set really proves its worth. The carving set tools are serrated, so the tool won't run ahead of you like a regular kitchen knife would. A knife has a tendency to slip, causing big mistakes in the carving--or worse-and injury to your hand. Work slowly, and don't rush the corners, and you should be okay.
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  8. 8
    Trim the Edges of the Cutouts
    Kate Supino might need to widen cut outs.jpg
    Kate Supino until the edges are clean.jpg
    In order to get maximum light effects, you might have to trim out the edges of the cutout sections. You can go in with your scraper to just widen out the holes as needed.
    Kate Supino use chopstick to ream eye hole so light shines through.jpg
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  9. 9
    Wipe Off the Outside Again
    Kate Supino wipe off pumpkin again.jpg
    Now that you're finished, you can remove the template and inspect the design. Make any corrections that may need to be done. Wipe off the outside of the jack-o-lantern again to get rid of any juice or fibers that may have gotten on the outside of the skin.
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  10. 10
    Insert the Candle
    A small pillar candle works best for lighting the inside of the jack-o-lantern. To help ensure that it stays upright, use the scraper to flatten out the bottom of the jack-o-lantern on the inside. Decide where you're going to place the jack-o-lantern. Insert your candle and light it with a long butane lighter. As Halloween season progresses, you'll need to replace the candle.
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  11. 11
    Enjoy Your Handiwork
    Kate Supino the effect is pretty cool.jpg
    The final effect of a jack-o-lantern can be quite impressive at night. Happy Halloween!
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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Article Info

Categories : Holidays & Traditions

Recent edits by: Eng, Melissa Rae, Kate Supino

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