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Carve a Halloween Pumpkin

Home > New York > Fun Things To Do | Fun for Children | Party Ideas
by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Trick or treating is for kids, so unless you're invited to a Hallowe'en party, how are you supposed to welcome in the All Hallow's Eve ghouls and ghosties?
By turning a pumpkin into a jack o'lantern and displaying it in your window, of course – apparently that's how the spirits of your ancestors can tell that you're happy to have them. Or so says the Celtic traditions Hallowe'en is based on.

The pumpkin itself is actually a new inclusion, people used to carve gourds, but pumpkins are much easier – and you can use your jack o'lantern's guts to make Pumpkin Pie.

The first step towards greeting your dead spirits with an orange grin is choosing the right pumpkin. Part of this comes down to aesthetics – do you like a long thin face or a rounder, fatter one? Part of it comes down to your artistic vision – what do you want to carve on it, the traditional grinning face, or something a bit more unusual? And part of it comes down to practicalities – if you go for the biggest pumpkin you can find how are you going to get it home, and if you go for a tiny 'munchkin', as the little ones are called, you might not get much pie out of it. But whatever you're imagining you should make sure you select a pumpkin that's uniformly orange and has no nicks, dints or bruises.

Once you have your 'canvas' you need to come up with your 'art'. If you're not particularly artistic don't fear, you can find jack o'lantern patterns online, or copy them from other people's masterpieces. Most of them go with the theme of a face, but bats and witches are also popular designs - last year pirates were also common. A basic line drawing witch like Meg from 'Meg and Mog' will turn out best.
Once you have a design in mind inspect your pumpkin for its best aspect, then draw your design onto your pumpkin - using grease pencils, if you're pedantic about things, and whichever pen or pencil is closest to hand if you're not.

Next comes the carving.

You should be able to find the tools you need to operate on your pumpkin in your kitchen, or maybe your shed. First you'll need a sharp knife with a long, thin blade to neatly take the top off your pumpkin in a circle, or hexagon shape around the stem – cut this on a bit of an angle, like a cone, as it's going to be your lid and if you cut it square on it's likely to fall in.

A sawing action is your best weapon because pumpkin skin is pretty thick and hardy.
Next you need some kind of scooping device to take out the guts – an ice cream scoop is perfect, as is a large serving spoon, which you can hold by the bowl bit not the handle if you need more leverage. Make sure you finish the bottom flat so that the candle that will illuminate your design will stand up.

The next tool you'll need is something to mark your design into the pumpkin, something like a nail, ice pick or a metal skewer, which you can use to pierce the hard skin in places and at the extremities of your pattern.

Use the long bladed knife to cut all the way though the skin – remembering to push large pieces of cut out skin outwards rather than inwards - and use a sharp paring knife for greater precision on the detailed bits of your design. If you have wood carving or lino cutting tools you might want to try those out on the pumpkin skin as well to create some more unique effects, but a good old sharp knife will do for you if that's all you have. It's actually safer to use sharp knives, as you don't need to use as much force so you're less likely to slip and hurt yourself.

If you're concerned about your pumpkin's lifespan coat the whole of its bared insides in vaseline – this will help it retain its moisture for longer and keep out the mould. Use it on all areas of exposed pumpkin flesh for best results. If you really want to slow down the decomposition process keep it as cool and dry as possible – in the fridge overnight if you have space, the spirits probably won't mind.

To finish your jack o'lantern insert its candle. White candles give off the best light, and if you insert your candle into a jar before you put it in your pumpkin it's less likely to be blow out by one of the gusts of winds that signal the entrance of the spirits over your threshold...

If you're not sure how good your fire insurance is you can use an artificial pumpkin light or glow sticks.
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Why? Your dead ancestors will appreciate it
When: A few days before the 31st...
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