Mick Telkamp

Mick Telkamp

pile of pumpkins
Carving pumpkins is a crafty (and fun) Halloween tradition.

Ghosts and goblins, witches and wizards, and mountains of candy flow freely as kids armed with pillowcases traipse from house to house giddily collecting their bounty. These are the images that come to mind as Halloween looms. But perhaps the most iconic sign of the season is the jack-o'-lantern. Once carved from turnips or beets, as well as the familiar pumpkin, scary faces were carved into the vegetables and perched near the front door to ward off evil spirits.

The superstitions have faded, and you won’t see too many turnips resting on the front steps these days, but the tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween is stronger than ever. From the simple crooked grin and glowing eyes to elegant mosaics, carved pumpkins of all sizes and styles light the way as anxious ghoulies make their way from house to house in search of the elusive king-sized Snickers bar.

Ready to put the face on Halloween? Check out the following tips to make carving your own pumpkin safe, sanitary and stylish.

Tools of the Trade

  • Newspapers spread out on a table or countertop before starting keep your carving station clean and tidy.
  • Dry erase markers will make drawing or tracing your designs a snap (and easy to wipe clean if you need to start over).
  • An ice cream scoop or large serving spoon makes pulp removal a snap.
  • Carving knives should be sharp and flexible with easy-to-grip handles. Thinner blades are helpful for more detailed designs. Children should not be allowed to handle knives, and adult supervision is always a must.

Selecting a Pumpkin

Whether your pumpkin comes from the grocery store or is selected from one of the many pick-your-own pumpkin patches, find a canvas that will suit your plans--big or small, perfectly round or misshapen--to create a grimacing ghoul. Whatever your design, find a pumpkin that is fresh and free of bruises or cuts and flat-bottomed to keep your jack-o'-lantern standing upright and stable.

Cutting the Lid

Use a boning knife to remove the top with an angled cut to prevent the lid from falling inside. The lid should be large enough to comfortably accommodate hands for scooping out the pulp.

Removing the Pulp

Make sure to thoroughly scrape out the inside of the pumpkin. Clean sides reduces decay and will allow light to shine through evenly. Be sure to save the seeds for roasting!

Drawing and Carving

Whether drawing freehand or using a template, use dry erase markers to mark all lines before making the first cut. Use knives of different sizes to cut along the lines: large knives to remove large sections and finer blades for detail work. 

Make It Last

To extend the stoop life of your work of art, rub a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the inside surfaces of the pumpkin to reduce mold and slow decay.

Lighting

Tea light or votive candles placed in the bottom of your jack-o'-lantern will provide a classic flickery glow, but battery powered LED “candles” are a cheap, safe and effective alternative (especially when jack-o'-lanterns are kept indoors).

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