Turning pumpkins into cleverly carved creations is a Halloween tradition. Each October, glowing pumpkins take up residence near doorsteps and porches, adding to the mystique of the season. Young and old spend time designing their themes and then set out to create their creations.
Some jack-o’-lanterns feature just smiling or grimacing faces, while others are far more artistic. These tips can help anyone carve a basic design.
Begin with a fresh pumpkin. Look for a pumpkin with a thick, green stem. If the pumpkin has been sitting around for too long or has been handled too much, the stem can get brittle and/or fall off. Avoid pumpkins that are soft or full of blemishes, or those that have dried, shriveled stems. A thick, fresh pumpkin is best for carving.
Plan your ideas. Draw a plan for your pumpkin before you make your first cut. Then transfer that design to the pumpkin with pen or a thin marker. Pumpkin-carving kits come with designs that can be “traced” by poking small holes to create the outline of the design.
Scoop out the pulp and seeds. Be sure to thoroughly clean the inside of the pumpkin. Leaving the pulpy, stringy matter and seeds inside can cause the pumpkin to rot that much faster and produce a foul odor. Scoopers, spoons and even hand shovels can help.
Work in your lap. When carving faces or intricate designs, looking down onto the pumpkin provides more control.
Don’t cut all the way through. Many professional pumpkin artists do not actually cut clear through the flesh of the pumpkin. They carve and shave off layers of the outer rind until it becomes more translucent. The level of transparency can be adjusted based on how much skin is removed and as a way to add texture and shadowing. The more air that is allowed to penetrate the pumpkin, the faster it will start to deteriorate.
Delay carving until as close to Halloween as possible. Wait until a day or two before the holiday to make your creation. Pumpkins are a perishable item, and they’ll begin to rot as soon as you begin carving. Spritzing them with water can help them stay fresh. Some also suggest that rubbing exposed areas of the pumpkin flesh with petroleum jelly may help keep the pumpkin moist. But there’s no turning back the clock once the first cut is made.
Cut a hole in the back. According to Maniac Pumpkin Carvers of Brooklyn, New York, cutting off the top of the pumpkin can affect its structural integrity and cause it to rot faster. Instead, cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin and use an electric light to illuminate it. LEDs are advisable because they don’t generate much heat, which can cook and rot the pumpkin from the inside out.