Halloween Frugality & Fun: Pumpkin Buying & Carving Tips for Longer-Lasting, Spooky Jack-O’-Lanterns, Plus Awesome Jack-O’-Lantern Photos
Posted By Vicki McClure Davidson on October 17, 2010
Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns can be daunting for those who haven’t done it before or only do it once a year at Halloween time. After all, the average person doesn’t practice through the year carving intricate patterns into gourds.
Get better results and more “bang for your pumpkin buck” by following these tips to create a magnificent, longer-lasting jack-o’-lantern.
First and foremost, once a pumpkin has been carved into a jack-o’-lantern, do not later cook and eat it. It will have been exposed to all sorts of airborne yuck, and could be unhealthy to eat from bacteria and potential mold growth. Also, the sweet, smaller pumpkins are much preferred for cooking and eating.
If possible, don’t carve your pumpkin much earlier than a day or two before Halloween — jack-o’-lanterns age quickly, especially in warmer areas.
The University of Illinois has a few tips on how to pick the perfect pumpkin for your jack-o-lantern:
- Choose a pumpkin with a stem and never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.
- Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright.
- Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot.
- Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange colored ones, but they will not keep as well.
- Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving.
- To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly.
Some more tips from Homecooking.About.com, Pumpkin Carving Tips — How to Carve a Pumpkin for a Jack-o’-lantern:
- Choose a large pumpkin. The larger the pumpkin, the easier it is to carve. Avoid any pumpkins with bruises or moldy stems as they will spoil much faster. Pumpkins with a lighter color tend to be softer and easier to carve.
- When cutting out the top, place the knife at a 45-degree angle so the the lid will have a place to rest when you replace it. If you cut straight down, the lid will fall through.
- When cleaning the pumpkin, save the seeds. Toasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy as well as tasty snack. Use a large, heavy metal serving spoon or ice cream scoop to scrape the insides. If you will be lighting the pumpkin, the back wall should be scraped as smooth as possible since this is where the light will be reflected. A 1-inch thickness of the pumpkin wall is optimum.
- For longer life, soak the cleaned pumpkin a couple of hours in a bleach water solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 gallon of water. Dry thoroughly, then rub inside and out, including all cut edges, with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to prevent shriveling. If the pumpkin begins to shrivel, repeat the process. The soaking time will depend upon how dried out the pumpkin has become.
- Beginners should select a simple, bold pattern. Once you master the simple patterns, you can move on to something more difficult.
- Print out or draw the pattern on a piece of paper. Use small sharp scissors or a razor knife to cut out the areas you will be carving into the pumpkin. Tape the template onto the pumpkin and use a marker to trace the carving lines. Cutting slits in the paper will help it to conform to the round surface.
- As an alternative, you can tape the outline to the pumpkin and use a nail or large pushpin to score the carving lines onto the pumpkin. Connect the dots as you carve.
- A long serrated knife or a pumpkin-carving knife with teeth will be necessary to cut through the thick flesh. Use a sawing motion and take your time cutting along the outside edge of the marker lines so there is no marker residue.
- Consider cutting off the bottom of the pumpkin, as well as the top. The pumpkin will be more stable and also easier to carve. If you plan on using a candle to light your jack’o’lantern, be sure the opening in the bottom is large enough to fit over the candle. Place the candle on a fire-proof base large enough to accomodate the pumpkin. You can then easily lift off the jack-o’-lantern to light the candle.
- A small battery-operated flameless candle is a safer choice than traditional candles for lighting your jack-o’-lantern.
- Sprinkle the bottom side of the pumpkin lid with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cloves to let your jack-o’-lantern do double duty as an air freshener.
You can create your own patterns to carve into your pumpkin, or you can find and print out the perfect pattern online. There are a number of jack-o’-lantern pattern sites… one that has hundreds of free patterns that you can check out is The Pumpkin Wizard.
Some additional tips from FamilyFun.go.com, Perfect Pumpkins – Crafty Carving Tips:
- Draw your design on the pumpkin with a water-based marker beforehand. Mistakes are erased easily with a damp sponge.
- Cut the top and any large areas with a sharp, straight-edged knife. A dull blade is not a safer alternative.
- Serrated metal saws, now widely available in carving kits, are a safer alternative to knives and allow younger children to get in on the action.
- Carve away from yourself; kids should carve only under adult supervision.
- Never hold the knife in a stabbing position.
- When carving, keep a portion of the knife blade in the pumpkin and use slow, steady saw strokes.
- Cut the lid at an angle so the outside diameter is larger than the inside. This prevents the top from falling into the pumpkin when it shrinks.
- Carve the facial features closest to the center first and work outward. Cut out the larger features in sections.
- Use an X-Acto knife for details and the tip of a potato peeler to make small circles and curves.
- Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin.
- Reattach a section that is accidentally removed by using a toothpick to pin it back in place.
- Make design holes large enough to provide adequate ventilation for the candle.
- Flatten a spot in the base of the pumpkin for the candle but avoid digging too deep because the pumpkin becomes prone to rot.
- Make sure the flame is not too close to the top of the pumpkin.
- To prolong the life of the jack-o’-lantern, seal in moisture by coating all cut surfaces with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil, or cover it with a damp towel when not on display.
- Consider giving smaller children stickers, tempera paint, or markers to decorate their own pumpkins.
Some creative jack-o’-lantern photos to get your imagination fired up.
Photographer Rex Bennett wrote:
As stated before, my family has this tradition where we buy four pumpkins and carve them into four faces: sad, crazy, scary, and happy. This year’s happy pumpkin appears to have been lobotomized.
More awesome photos of jack-o’-lanterns, plus Halloween party and food ideas, with recipes: