Perfect Pumpkins

Crafty Carving Tips from Spoonful

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If you're looking for a great pumpkin to carve this Halloween season, take a cue from Linus and head directly to the patch. To locate a commercial grower in your area, contact your state agriculture department. Then you can call the farm directly to inquire about hours, prices and available varieties (Connecticut Field, Howden and Baby Bear are good bets for carving; Small Sugar, Golden Cushaw and White pumpkins are choice for pie making). Ask if the pumpkins are displayed at a stand or if you can harvest your own from the field. Do they charge by the pumpkin or the pound?

Once there, after your family has surveyed the lot, you're probably in for a patch-side debate over the perfect specimen. Whether you plan to decorate with a row of small and medium-size globes or a single huge one (the largest one on record was grown in Washington state and weighed a whopping 827 pounds), be sure the pumpkin you choose is symmetrical enough to rest squarely on a flat surface. Pass over any with bruises, cracks or broken stems, because they tend to deteriorate quickly.

Plan on carving no earlier than a day or two before Halloween--jack-o'-lanterns have short "step" lives. And remember to bring your porch pumpkin indoors on nights when the temperature is expected to drop below freezing.

 

CARVING TIPS

  • Draw your design on the pumpkin with a water-based marker beforehand. Mistakes are erased easily with a damp sponge.
  • Cut the top and any large areas with a sharp, straight-edged knife. A dull blade is not a safer alternative.
  • Serrated metal saws, now widely available in carving kits, are a safer alternative to knives and allow younger children to get in on the action.
  • Carve away from yourself; kids should carve only under adult supervision.
  • Never hold the knife in a stabbing position.
  • When carving, keep a portion of the knife blade in the pumpkin and use slow, steady saw strokes.
  • Cut the lid at an angle so the outside diameter is larger than the inside.This prevents the top from falling into the pumpkin when it shrinks.
  • Scoop out seeds and stringy flesh with a large spoon or ice cream scooper.
  • Carve the facial features closest to the center first and work outward. Cut out the larger features in sections.
  • Use an X-Acto knife for details and the tip of a potato peeler to make small circles and curves.
  • Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin.
  • Reattach a section that is accidentally removed by using a toothpick to pin it back in place.
  • Make design holes large enough to provide adequate ventilation for the candle.
  • Flatten a spot in the base of the pumpkin for the candle but avoid digging too deep because the pumpkin becomes prone to rot.
  • Make sure the flame is not too close to the top of the pumpkin.
  • To prolong the life of the jack-o'-lantern, seal in moisture by coating all cut surfaces with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil, or cover it with a damp towel when not on display.
  • Consider giving smaller children stickers, tempera paint, or markers to decorate their own pumpkins.

Visit our Pumpkin Carving & Decorating page for great pumpkin decorating ideas.

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