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Carving a pumpkin is not as easy as it may seem. Here are five steps to help you create the perfect jack-o’-lantern’ this Halloween.
Pumpkin season was here before the pumpkin spice latte (and pumpkin spice everything else) craze pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and, of course, jack-o-lanterns.
The word “pumpkin” refers to various winter squashes, most often orange ones with ribs. However, pumpkins in multiple colors (including white, tan, red, and dark green) and forms have grown increasingly popular in recent years. Winter squashes include all pumpkins. Only a few winter squashes, however, are pumpkins. Winter squashes all feature a thick layer of edible meat hidden under a tough skin, as well as a core cavity filled with stringy flesh and edible seeds. Even the tiniest, decorative pumpkins are delicious. If you intend to consume pumpkins, choose organic varieties since conventional farmers regularly spray the crop.
Even though pumpkins and gourds are both used for autumn decoration, they are not the same thing. They are sometimes mistakenly classified as gourds and vice versa. So, how can you determine the difference between a gourd and a pumpkin? Cut it open as follows: Inside their thick shell, pumpkins contain solid yet juicy meat. Ripe gourds often have a thick, woody shell, with any remaining meat being dry and fibrous (loofah sponges are an example of gourd fibers).
Why Do People Carve Pumpkins?
You may be asking why we carve pumpkins in the first place before you learn how to do it. The practice of carving pumpkins into frightening faces originated in Ireland. On All-Hallows’-Eve, the night before All-Hallows Day (All-Saints” Day), turnips, beets, and even potatoes were hollowed out, carved, and lit to ward off evil spirits. Before St. Patrick set foot on the Emerald Isle, cut and burned vegetables were likely a feature of Celtic autumn celebrations. The eerie flashing of the candle flame within is referred to known as a “jack-o’-lantern’.” Likewise, the flickering lights known as “will-o’-the-wisps” or “jack-o’-lanterns”‘” emerge and vanish over marshes and bogs were reminiscent of the candles.
When Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, they carried their customs with them. They quickly embraced the pumpkin as their preferred vegetable. They needed to find out how to carve a pumpkin since it was bigger and hollow. This made cutting considerably simpler than hollowing out and carving even a giant root vegetable. Today’s jack-o’-lanterns’ may have scary faces, but they’re’ more likely to be set out for amusement or to greet costumed trick-or-treaters than to ward against evil spirits.
Choose a Pumpkin to Carve
Let’s talk about how to choose a pumpkin before we go into how to carve one.
- Look for a firm pumpkin with no soft patches, cuts, or other damage (dry, callused areas are OK).
- Examine all surfaces, particularly the base of the stem and the bottom. Oh, and although the branch may seem to be a carrying handle, avoid using it to transport the pumpkin since it may snap off, leaving an ugly, rot-prone wound. Instead, take up your pumpkin with both hands from the sides or bottom.
- Choose a fully grown pumpkin. A ripe pumpkin has thick, puncture-resistant skin (if you can cut the skin with your fingernail, it’s’ not ripe and won’t’ survive long; choose another pumpkin).
- Pumpkins transported across the nation may pick up bruises along the journey, which may contribute to early spoiling. Shop from a local farm instead.
- Consider the ugly, asymmetrical pumpkins since their form may frequently be used as part of your design.
- When you bring it home, clean the exterior of your pumpkin with natural dish soap or castile soap to help decrease the number of germs waiting for you to cut into it so they may feast.
- Plan on leaving your pumpkin uncarved until a day or two before Halloween (if you can’t’ wait, purchase two pumpkins: one to carve right away and one to carve just before Halloween).
Instructions for Carving
If you’re’ wondering how to carve a jack-o-lantern out of a pumpkin, here’s all you need to know: You’ll’ need a pumpkin (as mentioned above), as well as some tools for chopping, scraping, and carving (you probably have some in your kitchen drawers that will serve).
Tools for cutting and carving:
Carving equipment for a basic jack-o’-lantern’ is a sharp, robust, long-bladed knife and a sharp paring knife. In addition, you may wish to invest in a few safer and more precise tools, such as small saws and an awl, for finer patterns and easier pumpkin carving (for making holes to start sawing from). A saw and awl combination is safer for young children’s fingers and is highly recommended for safe pumpkin carving (saving both fingers and your nerves).
If you have an apple corer, you may use it to make round holes or corners. Any chisels or carving tools you have for working with other materials may be used (though they are not suitable for youngsters); just clean and dry the tools well after each use to prevent rusting. After you’ve’ mastered the fundamentals of pumpkin carving, you may want to try out other tools. Even professionals use an electronic carving tool like a Dremel.
The majority of the seeds, as well as the stringy, fibrous ooze, may be extracted using your hand. However, you’ll’ probably need a scraper other than your fingernails to get all of the guts out. Scrape the remainder of the stringy guts out of a pumpkin using a tablespoon or soup spoon (the narrower the bowl, the better, since the edge will be sharper) or a melon-baller. You may also purchase specialist scrapers/scoops with broad blades and short handles that make it simpler to work inside a pumpkin.
Now that you have your tools, here’s how to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern’ step by step:
Step 1: Carve a hole in the pumpkin.
Place your pumpkin on a clean, sturdy surface (or spread newspaper to catch any drips). Then, with a felt tip marker, draw the intended cut on the skin: You want the hole to be big enough for your fist to fit through, but not too big since you want to leave as much of the pumpkin intact as possible, so it keeps its form.
In most photos, the lid is cut off from the top and centered around the stem, and that’s OK. However, to create a rim for the cover to sit on, slant the knife in toward the middle of the other side of the pumpkin rather than straight down when cutting for a top opening and stemmed lid (if you cut straight down, your cover will fall into the cavity when you put it back on).
However, here’s a better method to carve a pumpkin: Create a straight-sided hole in the middle of the pumpkin’s bottom. This has three advantages: you won’t’ have a lid to fall in as the pumpkin softens; weeping liquids won’t’ build up in the carved pumpkin, attracting insects and encouraging spoilage; and lighting the jack-o’-lantern’ with a candle will be much easier (you light the candle and then set the jack-o’-lantern’ down over the lighted candle, rather than fussing around inside your carved pumpkin with a lighted candle).
Cut through the skin and flesh of the pumpkin, as well as into the seed cavity in the middle, using a hefty knife with a sharp tip or an awl and pumpkin-saw. Warning: the skin of the pumpkin is rough, and the raw pumpkin flesh is HARD! When dealing with a knife, be cautious since you will need to push hard, and it is possible to slide and cut too far (or yourself). Lift/pull the cut portion out after you’ve’ completed the cut. Insert your strong knife (or a stout butter knife if you’ve’ been cutting with a tiny saw) under one edge and carefully pull it out. Remove the stringy guts from the inside of the lid (this isn’t’ necessary if you make a hole in the bottom) and put it aside.
Step 2: Remove the guts and seeds from the carcass.
With your hands or a long-handled spoon, scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds, putting the roots in one dish (for roasting later; see below) and the pulp in another for the hens or the compost pile. Next, scrape away every scrap of stringy, mushy pulp from the pumpkin’s interior (any residual pulp will hasten the spoilage process), leaving only solid, hard meat. Finally, wipe the interior of the container dry.
Step 3: Sketch up your design.
Because you can’t’ undo a cut, it’s’ a good idea to draw your design onto the pumpkin’s surface before taking up a cutting instrument. For sketching and drawing, a felt tip marker is ideal. You may also use an awl to poke tiny holes where you intend to cut after you’ve’ completed the basic drawing (although you can’t’ delete them, so be sure before you do this).
When learning how to carve a pumpkin, basic designs with straight edges, such as triangles, may be simpler to sketch, mainly if you’ll’ be carving them out with a knife. You may also use a pre-made pattern. If you’re’ cutting using a saw, you’ll’ be able to be more inventive. First, however, make sure there is enough undisturbed flesh between the various forms to hold the pumpkin after it has been sliced and begins to soften or dry out.
Step 4: Cut your design out.
Cut around the edges of your pinto pattern using a tiny, sharp knife or an awl and saw (the second option is safer and simpler). Then, using your finger, carefully push the loose pieces into or out of the pumpkin. It’s’ preferable to cut out tiny portions of the design at a time for big or complex apertures like toothy smiles. These meat scraps may be cooked and consumed, or they can be fed to the hens or composted.
Step 5: Make sure your jack-o’-lantern’ is in good shape.
After you’ve’ done carving your pumpkin, use an essential-oil-based cleaning spray like our melaleuca oil home cleanser or a solution of 1 teaspoon borax mixed in a quart of warm water to spray or wipe the interior of the hollow and all the carved surfaces. Even better, immerse the carved pumpkin in a tub of borax water overnight (1 tablespoon per gallon).
Step 6: Add some light to your jack-o’-lantern’.
After carving a jack-o’-lantern’ out of a pumpkin, you’ll’ want to show it off by placing a light inside to shine through the pattern. Tea light candles are a nice size for a centerpiece and are simple to maintain upright. Also, they are less likely to blow out on a windy evening if you keep them within a glass container.
When lighting a candle inside a jack-o-lantern, use long fireplace matches or a lighter with a long neck to protect your fingers and hands. This isn’t’ a problem if you cut your first hole at the bottom since you can light the candle in the open and then drop the jack-o’-lantern’ over it.
Always handle lit candles with care and keep them away from anything that may catch fire. When you can’t keep an eye on them, put them out.
Instead of a candle, you may use a battery-operated tea light or a short string of outdoor-rated Christmas lights wrapped around a glass jar and placed within (blinking ones make for an extra-spooky effect).
Life of Pumpkin
A pumpkin with its skin intact will remain fresh and edible for months. However, as soon as you puncture the skin, microorganisms like fungus, bacteria, and molds, as well as insects, may begin to tear it down (a process we refer to as spoiling, rotting, or composting). The decomposition is further aided by exposure to oxygen and moisture loss into dry air. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to keep your carved pumpkin as solid and beautiful as possible for as long as feasible:
If you have the space and it’s’ not too hot outside, putting your jack-o’-lantern’ in the refrigerator while you’re’ not using it is a beautiful method to prolong its life.
Every day, soak your carved pumpkin for at least a couple of hours in a tub of borax water (1 tablespoon per gallon). This will aid in the prevention of rot and mold. Arid areas where dehydration is a problem will also help keep your carved pumpkin full and perky.
Suppose fruit flies become an issue, set up a trap nearby to reduce the population before they lay a million eggs. Make your trap by filling a tall glass halfway with leftover juice, beer, or wine. Then put a tiny funnel in it (the tip must be above the liquid level): flies fly in but can’t’ find their way out and ultimately drown.
Sprinkle all cut surfaces with cayenne pepper powder or wipe with a paste of cayenne powder, a little water, and a drop or two of liquid soap if your neighborhood squirrels feel you’ve’ set out a delicious feast for their benefit (take care not to get cayenne in your eyes)
Pumpkin Seeds: How to Roast Them
You may be wondering what to do with the seeds now that you’ve learned how to carve a pumpkin and have your jack-o’-lantern’. Make eating pumpkin seeds a part of your pumpkin-carving ritual since they’re’ high in protein, minerals, and flavor. Remove any big pieces of pulp from the sources you gathered with your fingers first. Then add water to the bowl. Remove any remaining fibers with a pinch, leaving just the seeds. Swirl the seeds around in the murky water and dump them out. Refill the container and continue until the water is clear. Drain the water in a colander. Saute the seeds in coconut oil with your favorite spices. Alternatively, put the dry roots in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15–20 minutes at 300°F, regularly monitoring towards the end. They should be dry and crispy but not so brown that they taste burned. You may eat them on their own. Alternatively, mix them with coconut oil and a variety of sweet or savory spices. Then put them back in the oven for a few minutes longer.
NOTE: Unlike pepitas (which originate from rare “naked seeded” pumpkin cultivars like ”Kakai” or ”Lady Godiva,” most pumpkin seeds have a thin, papery shell around the green, meaty seed within), most pumpkin seeds have a thin, papery shell around the green, the meaty kernel inside. You may consume the shells or spit out the rough parts as you would sunflower seed shells.
- Knives, tiny saws, and awls are standard carving tools.
- Marker with a felt tip
- Candles for tea lights (regular or battery-operated)
- Place your pumpkin on a clean, sturdy surface (or spread newspaper to catch any drips).
- With a felt tip marker, draw the intended cut on the skin. I suggest drawing the hole on the pumpkin’s bottom.
- Create a straight-sided hole in the middle of the pumpkin’s bottom.
- With your hands or a long-handled spoon, scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds, putting the seeds in one dish (for roasting later) and the pulp in another for the chickens or the compost pile.
- Sketch your design. If you’re’ new at carving pumpkins, simple shapes like triangles may be simpler to work with.
- Make a cutout of your design.
- After you’ve’ done carving, use an essential oil-based cleaning spray to spritz or wipe the interior of the hollow, as well as all the carved surfaces. Alternatively, immerse the completed pumpkin in a tub of borax water overnight.
- It’s’ now time to light your jack-o-lantern. Tea light candles are a nice size for a centerpiece and are simple to maintain upright.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make a jack o lantern step by step?
A: First, you need a pumpkin. Next, cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin and make sure it is big enough for your head to fit through. Then, take a knife and carve out the inside of the pumpkin until you have an opening that will be wide enough for your arms to go through. Finally, take a knife and carve out two holes on either side of the face area of the pumpkin so that they are big enough for your hands to fit through.
How do you carve a pumpkin step by step?
A: First, you need to cut the top off of the pumpkin. Next, you will drill a small hole in the bottom of the pumpkin. Then, you will use a spoon to scoop out all of the seeds and pulp inside it. Finally, you will carve away at its flesh with a knife until it is completely hollowed out.
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