Carving pumpkins has been a tradition for many years with my family. As a child, my dad would work with my brother and I to plan the most unique and scary designs. Sometimes I think he was in competition with not only the neighbourhood, but also himself - trying to top his ideas year after year.
Now with my own daughters, I try to do the same. I am always looking for ways to make the task not only easier - but to impress my kids (and also show my neighbours) who can carve the winning pumpkin on the street - silly I know - but the tradition runs deep :)
Some tips I have found and learned over the years include:
Clean your Pumpkin! The worst thing is when you carve your masterpiece and it begins to rot before the big day. Therefore, before carving wipe down the outside with a diluted bleach solution. This will remove all the yuck (ie. bacteria etc) that cause decay. Also, when cleaning out your pumpkin be sure to remove every bit of pulp so it won't attract any bugs.
Topsy Turvey but practical! Another discovery I have made, which I am not sure how I missed it after all these years is to open the pumpkins from the bottom. This maintains the the pumpkin shape and stem. Even the gunk you need to get out often settles at the bottom overtime, so when you remove the opening much of the pulp and seeds will come out with it, making cleaning easier. The genius behind this method is the fact that placing and lighting the candle is so much easier.
Waste not, want not! When you get all the goop out - (aka the pulp) place it in a large bowl of cold water. after a few good stirs a lot of the gunk will fall to the bottom of the bowl while the seeds float to the top. Once they are separated skim the seeds off the top. Pat the seeds dry and toss them with a little oil, and salt and pepper and roast at 350ºF until until browned, 15 to 20 minutes. This is a delicious and rewarding snack after all the hard work.
Thin it out! After you get the pulp out and seeds are toasting in the oven - try to thin the walls of the pumpkin to help the light to shine through - you will want to thin it to about 1/2 to 1-inch thick.
Plan before you cut! Plan your design / drawing before you start carving. I have tried the "make it up as you go" method. It is pretty scary and not in the good "Halloween" scary. It’s always a good idea to plan out your design before jumping in, especially since there is no going back once you have made a cut! A great tip is to use a dry erase marker - it is easy to remove after you are done.
Vaseline? Yes please! Some recent tips we also found include rubbing Vaseline. We are going to try this year. It is said that petroleum jelly prevents your jack-o'-lantern from getting moldy. It's not a myth. Smearing petroleum jelly on your jack-o'-lantern helps it stay fresh longer.
Spice it up! Freshen it up with some cinnamon. Lightly dust the top of the cut pumpkin with a very small amount of cinnamon. Blot off with a paper towel. Make sure there is no loose cinnamon inside the pumpkin (this can be flammable) before lighting a candle and replacing the lid. However, another recommendation here is to use battery operated candles or twinklelights.
Tips for tools! If you are looking for the right tools - we have found that kids' carving sets are the best (which you can get at any craft store/ dollar store around this time of year. The saw-type knives in kids pumpkin carving sets are the best - they are small and easy to handle, and the blades are flexible so you can easily turn corners and make round shapes.
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