Save the seeds – they’re tasty!
I never was very good at carving pumpkins for Halloween.
As a kid, I didn’t have the patience to wait until it was almost Halloween to cut a face into my pumpkin (each of us four Adams kids got a pumpkin to carve from our parents’ garden). That means my version of a jack-o’-lantern with a huge, toothy grin early in October looked more like my grandpa with his dentures out by Halloween than it did a smiling face.
That’s even if the pumpkin made it to Halloween. With two sisters in the family our house seemed to be the target of pranksters with toilet paper or other schemes trying to get my sisters’ attention. Around Halloween, that might include sneaking up to the front porch at night and smashing our pumpkins.
As an adult I haven’t fared much better in the carved pumpkin category.
A few years ago I decided to try using a template and an X-acto knife to create a pattern on the pumpkin without cutting completely through the orange squash. I followed instructions carefully, but I can be heavy handed sometimes, and artistic finesse is not in my toolbox. It kind of looked like it should have. Sort of.
Now we don’t do the jack-o’-lantern thing. We get a few pumpkins and stick them out on the porch. We put a plastic pumpkin on the porch light to show we are open to little trick-or-treaters and call it a night. Our neighborhood also has an app that lets you show neighbors that your candy dish awaits their costumed kids.
But if you want to take on the task of cutting a face or design into a pumpkin, listen to what the professionals have to say. It can save you time and help prevent the sagging facial features if your pumpkin starts to go bad early.
Good Housekeeping offers a step-by-step guide to how to carve a pumpkin at www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/halloween-ideas/a22196/pumpkin-carving-tips/. I’ll break it down so you can get the idea of how it ideally should be done.
Take your time shopping for a pumpkin. A well-connected stem and flat bottom are favored.
While most of us have been programmed to cut the access hole in the top of the pumpkin (at an angle, so the top will not fall into the body of the squash), pumpkin pro Michael Natiello told the magazine that he prefers to cut the hole in the bottom, which will prevent the sag we all fear.
You’ll find all kinds of carving kits on store shelves this time of year. Maniac Pumpkin Carvers indicate most of the tools you will need are already in your house. They include:
- A sturdy paring knife
- A scraper (you can buy metal spoons at the dollar store, or you can use an ice cream scoop)
- X-acto knives
- Sculpting tools, such as woodcarving scoops of various sizes
- Fine line drawing markers (not black – a color that will better blend in to the flesh)
Once you’ve cut your hole, start digging out the seeds and stringy pulp. Don’t toss the seeds and all because there’s a great recipe at the end of this article that requires pumpkin seeds. Also don’t stop at just emptying the pumpkin; use your scraper and continue to scrape the sides of the pumpkin until they are pulp-free and smooth. Experts suggest thinning out the part of the pumpkin where you plan to carve a design even more, which will make cutting that much easier.
Now decide how you want your jack-o’-lantern to look. You can do the classic face by placing a sheet of paper on the pumpkin and drawing the face you want. Cut out the eyes and mouth shapes from the paper and use it as a template to draw lines using the marker. You can also use a toothpick, following the lines of the template and poking the toothpick into the skin to create a dotted line where you want to cut.
Better yet, go online and find a template you like. A couple of websites you can visit for free templates are www.hgtv.com/design/decorating/design-101/beginner-halloween-pumpkin-carving-templates-pictures and www.pinterest.com/lynnietimm/pumpkin-carving-patterns/.
Natiello told Good Housekeeping you should hold your pumpkin in your lap, with the face or design surface facing you. Make the major cuts first, going back later to deal with the intricate designs you might want.
You can keep your pumpkin fresh by putting petroleum jelly or non-stick oil spray on the cut areas, which will keep the moisture in. If you find your jack-o’-lantern is starting to sag too soon, soak it face-down in ice water for up to eight hours for a good facelift.
While some insist on the old-fashioned candle to light up your squash, an electric votive will give the same affect without burning the top of the pumpkin or posing a danger if the pumpkin gets rolled over.
Now, about those seeds. Here’s a recipe from The Food Network on how to clean, roast and flavor them.
Once you seed the pumpkin, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Clean the seeds by separating them from the stringy pulp. Rinse the seeds in a colander under cold water, then shake dry. Don’t blot with paper towels; the seeds will stick.
Spread the seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and roast 30 minutes to dry them out.
Toss the seeds with olive oil, salt and your choice of spices (see below). Return to the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 20 more minutes.
- Sweet: Toss with cinnamon and sugar (do not use salt in this application).
- Indian: Toss with garam masala; mix with currants after roasting.
- Spanish: Toss with smoked paprika; mix with slivered almonds after roasting.
- Italian: Toss with grated parmesan and dried oregano.
- Barbecue: Toss with brown sugar, chipotle chili powder and ground cumin.