What's Halloween without a carved pumpkin? Check out these tips and tricks for carving a pumpkin, including selecting the right tools, keeping your carved pumpkin fresh and adding the right illumination.
- A serrated knife works well for creating a hole in the pumpkin. It's preferable to carve the hole in the bottom of the pumpkin to cut off any bumps so the pumpkin will sit level. It's also much easier to place the pumpkin over a light source rather than lowering the light, like a candle, into the pumpkin.
- A large metal spoon or ice cream scoop is great for removing the pumpkin seeds. Another option is a battery-operated spinner that's made specifically for scraping the insides of the pumpkin walls.
- Small paring knives are great for carving designs into the pumpkin. Pumpkin-carving kits, made specifically for kids or adults, are another good source. Battery-operated, pumpkin-carving knives also make quick work of even intricate designs.
- Newspapers spread out on a table or countertop before starting keeps 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).
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.
Removing the Pulp
Make sure to thoroughly scrape out the inside of the pumpkin. Clean sides reduce 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.
Illuminating a Pumpkin
The candle-free options are nearly endless for showcasing your pumpkin designs. Check stores for color-changing strobe lights, battery-operated tea lights and rainbow LEDs that are made specifically for pumpkins and are safe for use in fresh or foam pumpkins. Battery-operated tea lights are a great option for a small pumpkin or gourd or use several in a larger pumpkin.
If the pumpkin will be displayed near an outlet, a string of Christmas lights or a small lamp can be used.
The final choice is candles, the old standby. Votive or pillar candles, placed on a plate that is large enough to catch any drips, are the best option. A good tip when illuminating a pumpkin with a candle is to cut a small hole in the top of the pumpkin, like a chimney, allowing the heat to escape. Note: Candles can only be used in fresh pumpkins, never place a lit candle inside a foam pumpkin.
Tips to Preserve Carved Pumpkins
Mold and dehydration are the two main contributors to pumpkin rot. Prevent both by covering the carved areas and the interior of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly. This will keep the pumpkin from drying out and will slow the growth of mold.
Spray the pumpkin with a store-bought pumpkin preservation spray. Make sure that it is environmentally friendly and non-toxic. Note: Even with these precautions, a cut pumpkin will only last for a few days to a week, so it's best to cut your pumpkin no earlier than a few days before your Halloween festivities.
Another option is to add a small amount of bleach to a spray bottle filled with water. Spray the pumpkin daily with the bleach mixture; the bleach fights mold while the water keeps the pumpkin from drying out too quickly.