Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Carving Pumpkins

Have you carved your pumpkins yet? (If you don't go in for all that Hallowe'en-y stuff, you should probably stop reading now.) I just finished mine today. I don't like to carve them too early (despite the desperate pleas of my Little Boo), because, you know, I don't like them to rot before the big night. Also, the big kids in this neighbourhood can be jerks sometimes, and I'd like our Jack O'Lanterns to survive to do their job. Our pumpkins have been sitting all nekkid on our front walk for a couple of weeks now, and I've been itching to get my carve on.

Carving pumpkins isn't really very difficult, but it is pretty messy. And you have to have the right tools. As you can see from the picture below, my laptop and my coffee are both critical to the process
My recommendations:
  • Line your work surface with newspaper to make clean-up a snap (or fold, whatever).
  • Have plenty of paper towels to wipe your hands and/or the pumpkin.
  • You will need a heavy, sharp knife to cut the top off your pumpkin; something with which to scoop out the pumpkin guts (I love the serrated plastic spoon above that my friend gave me, but a ladle works too); a smaller knife, or special battery-operated cutting tool to carve your design (I don't know where I got mine, but it's like a mini-jigsaw and it is AMAZING!)
  • When you cut the top (lid) off your pumpkin, be sure to cut in on an angle so you can lay the lid back on afterwards.
  • I always use two bowls for the debris, so I can separate out the seeds for roasting as I go.

pumpkin guts
to be scooped
I always used to carve my pumpkins free-hand. The result wasn't always pretty, but usually pretty scary. Then I tried drawing a design first, before going all mad with the blade. But for the last couple of years I am all about templates. There are lots of online sources for free, printable templates. Here are a few you might want to check out:
Pumpkin Masters (My Jack O'Lantern pictured below is their Ichabod's Fate.)
Disney Character Templates, from Disney
Spoonful - courtesy of Disney (these are non-Disney patterns)
Today's Parent
Better Homes and Gardens

Once you have selected your template (think about the size and shape of your pumpkin and what will fit best), print it out and get ready to carve. You could use the template as a guide and draw the design freehand onto your pumpkin, but it is much easier (in my opinion) to tape your template on, and then use a sharp point to mark your pattern onto the pumpkin's surface, right through the paper. Many pumpkin carving kits come with a little punch for this purpose, but I used a cocktail pick.

When you have transferred your pattern onto the pumpkin, remove the template and get carving.  Depending on the complexity of your pattern, your little pokes may be hard to follow. Be sure to keep the template close by for comparison.

You can see how complex the pattern can look without context.
Refer to the template if you need a reminder.
As I mentioned, I use a battery-operated carving tool. I find it much quicker and easier than the knives I used to use. You do need to remember to poke it into the flesh first before you turn it on. Another tip - it is easier to remove small pieces from your carving. You can poke pieces through as you go (this will also start to give you a feel for the end result), or wait til the end. If you wait til the end of the carving, you may need to make additional cuts to be able to ease pieces out without breaking your design. Also, I find I often need to do a little trimming of the flesh to make the design stand out, especially with a larger pumpkin. Sometimes the angle of your cuts will leave a lot of flesh visible in the eyes, for instance, and that will affect how your pumpkin looks when lit. Trim it off for a clean end result.
There he is! My beauty. Just add a candle, and he is good to go. I do use candles still, but I use a votive in a glass holder. The holder protects from accidental firestarters, as well as protects the candle from the night breezes that would like to blow it out. I have tried battery-operated lights and glo-sticks, but they don't provide the effect I am going for.

Happy Carving!

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