Next to candy corn and ghosts, nothing says Halloween like a carved pumpkin. Some say that a Jack o' lantern was used to represent the souls of All Souls Day. Others think they were meant to keep those wandering souls from wandering into your home. Either way, a properly placed carved squash could do the trick to keep the spirits at bay. If you celebrate Halloween, chances are you've carved a pumpkin or two in your lifetime. The good news is that there is always room to learn a "new and improved" way.
Here are some tips for perfect pumpkin carving.
Tip 1: Pick the Perfect Pumpkin
To paraphrase Renaissance artist Michelangelo, "Every pumpkin has a scary face inside it and it is the task of the carver to discover it." You want to start by picking the perfect pumpkin. That would be one that is flat on the bottom and not going to roll. Depending on your design idea, you might need a big surface for your canvas. Always consider buying a back-up pumpkin just in case.
Note that pumpkins with a sturdy stem are the healthier ones; just don't pick a pumpkin up by the stem. This can speed up the "rotting" process. Also, don't pick a pumpkin that "sloshes" when you lift it. That's a pumpkin that has gone horribly bad!
Tip 2: Fish Out the Pumpkin Guts
To clean out your pumpkin you want to carve out the top by cutting in at an angle. The goal is to make a kind of cone shape which will allow your top to be replaced. A serrated knife is the best tool for this job. If you're throwing a party later on, keep those pumpkin guts handy. That will make a lovely decoration to your food table. Ewww.
Tip 3: Apply a Template
Unless you've got some extreme artistic skills, you should use a template for your face. These are easy to find online for a quick download and printout. Tape the template over your pumpkin and use a punch to "dot" the lines of the template. Remove the template and get ready to carve your design.
Tip 4: Carving the Design
You have two choices for carving out the design: A total punch through or leave some "skin." The punch through means you'll be carving all the way through the holes in your design. Don't punch through from the outside but poke out from the inside.
If you want to keep the skin for a eerie glow, try using an Exacto knife and be sure not to cut too deep. Your pumpkin membrane can hold up if your don't go too far in.
Tip 5: Light It Up
Once your pumpkin carve is complete you want to light it up. The old school method would be with a flickering candle, but that can be messy and labor intensive to keep changing the candle. A battery candle can give you the same kind of flicker. Another option would be to wrap a small string of white Christmas tree lights around a mason jar and place that in the pumpkin. You can carve a small hole in the base to run your cord through. If you're going with electric lights, experiment with light colors to see what ghoulish glows you can cast.
Finally, before your pumpkin starts to turn, make sure you snap a picture or two. Send them our way. We loved a good carved pumpkin picture!