With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to make the most of the spooky jamboree. There’s no better way to begin the festivities than with carving a Jack O’ Lantern. Carved pumpkin lanterns are perfectly spooky decorations for your next Halloween bash. Decorate your front porch or dinner table with Halloween or fall themed outdoor cushion covers and table covers and place Jack-O’-Lanterns outdoors to welcome trick-or-treaters.
Whether you are an amateur pumpkin carver or adept sculptor, here are some ways to improve your carving skills before the big day.
Pick the Perfect Pumpkin
Pick the perfect pumpkin will make the carving process much easier. A medium-sized, round pumpkin with no deep ridges is the easiest to sculpt. Look for the pumpkin with the most staying potential. A good choice is one that is solid to touch with a strong, sturdy green stem. A healthy pumpkin should also have a fresh aroma.
Set Up Your Carving Station
Sculpting a Jack-O’-Lantern is a messy task. You will be scooping the pulp and seeds out of the pumpkin. Opt for outdoor carving stations whenever possible so you can avoid creating a mess or staining your counters and furniture.
Lay down a tarp to prevent the gloppy mess from ruining your porch. Cover tabletops with a waterproof & sturdy table cover to keep it spick & span and miles away from staining & soiling.
Collect the Supplies You Need
After setting up the space, it’s time to get your carving tools ready to scoop and scrape creepy carvings. Here are some of the supplies/tools straight out of your kitchen to get you started with sculpting:
- Sharpie or a black permanent marker to trace your designs.
- Ladle or ice cream scoop to hollow out the pumpkin.
- Spoon to clean the rest of the pumpkin pulp.
- Kitchen towel to clean your hands.
- Fillet knife with a thin, narrow blade to pierce through tough parts of the pumpkin.
- Paring knife just the right size and shape for carving.
- Lemon zester and vegetable peeler to create decorative effects and textures.
- Melon ballers can also be used to make eyeballs.
- Pumpkin carving stencil to etch the design easily.
Safety & Sharp Tools
As pumpkin sculpting does involve the use of sharp tools such as knives and other pointy objects, it is advised to handle them with utmost care. If children are involved, use the standard pumpkin carving kit with plastic scrapers and scoops.
Take all necessary precautions such as wearing rubber gloves while carving. Painting your pumpkin is a kid-friendly alternative if you want to keep little hands away from sharp objects.
Unless you are making the classic Jack-O’-Lantern with the top cut out, it is recommended to cut a hole at the bottom to pull out all the goop. The classic top-carving structurally weakens the pumpkin and speeds up the rotting process. Alternatively, you can create a square or diamond-shaped opening at the back to scoop the pulp out and then place the piece back when you are done.
Next, use scraping tools to thin out the pumpkin’s inner walls. The walls shouldn’t be thicker than 3/4 an inch. The thinner the walls, the better it will be for the pumpkin’s shelf life.
Now, the squash is ready to be carved. Choose the side that is smoothest, softest, scratch & dark spots free for hassle-free chiseling.
Draw or Use Stencils
Once you start carving, there’s no going back, so plan your design beforehand. If you are not confident with your drawing skills, use a pumpkin carving stencil. Tape the print-out directly over the fruit and use a needle or pin to prick the design in the pumpkin. Alternatively, you can use a transfer paper and outline the pattern directly onto your squash.
After you are done drawing your creepy face, use the fillet knife to gently pierce through the holes to get the carving started. Make sure you keep your hands firm and stable during the whole process to create an impeccable piece of art.
Secure Broken Pieces with Toothpicks
Carving does entail a lot of patience and expertise. After successfully transferring the pattern onto the pumpkin, perfecting little nuances becomes harder as it tends to weaken the squash. If your pattern pieces fall off or break during the process, fret not. You can easily use toothpicks to fix and secure the broken pieces onto the lantern.
Preserve Your Ghoulish Grins
Once you’ve carved your pumpkin, you need to preserve it from dehydration, moisture, and mold, which are the main causes of the rotting process. The best thing you can do is keep the pumpkin away from direct sunlight.
Wrap it up with plastic and store it in the refrigerator. The application of petroleum jelly on its outer and inner surface helps prevent the gourd from getting dehydrated. To further slow the decaying process, you can even use hairspray. Spraying the pumpkin inside and out with a bathroom cleaner containing bleach also increases its shelf life and protects it from rotting too quickly.
Save the Pulp and Seeds
Pumpkin guts and seeds make for a delicious seasonal snack. Save these items to enjoy amazing nutritional value and delectable taste. Separate the pumpkin flesh and string from the seeds. Clean and roast the seeds for healthy snacking or you can use them in everything including bagel seasoning, cinnamon sugar, or even pumpkin spice.
For the pulp, you can turn it into a puree to prepare risotto, soups, and other Halloween recipes. You can also use this nutritive ingredient to bake some delicious desserts such as cheesecakes, ice creams, cupcakes, quick bread, pies, and more.
You can even get creative with pumpkin skin too. Bake or dehydrate the skin and turn it into chips. Sprinkle with some salt and savor them with a tasty dipping or dust with cinnamon/sugar to turn them into candies.
Use Votive Candles or Tea Lights
Give your Jack-O’-Lanterns a spooky glow and animate the carved characters. Illuminate them with votive candles or tea lights. Set the candles inside the pumpkin where the surface seems flat and not wobbly.
Make sure there is at least an inch of distance between the top of the candle wick and the pumpkin lid, or else the walls will start to cook up quickly. You can even switch to short candles or tea lights. For safety, use long lighters to light the wicks.
To upgrade your Jack-o-lanterns, you can even go for green Christmas lights or battery-operated LEDs to give your eerie carvings a ghoulish feel.