Hi everyone. Thanks for viewing my first 'Instructable'. I made my living as a woodcarver for years, and have won pumpkin-carving contests in the past as well, so it seemed natural to pass on here the skills I used. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. It's the one day of the year when we can all use our creativity to be someone else. Carving pumpkins is but one part of Halloween. Most of us have carved pumpkins as children, but there are a few things I've learned which distinguish a simple jack-o-lantern from a prize-winner.
Step 1: Whatcha Need...
1. A sharp knife. One with a narrow profile, like a fishing knife is best for fine details.
2. A spoon with a sharpish edge, or an ice cream scoop.
3. A marking pen (washable preferred).
4. Paper & pencil, for the designing phase.
5. A proper work space.
6. A pumpkin (duh).
For years now, already made patterns have been available to buy, but to me that deprives us of a fundamental joy in Halloween, the creativity. If you wanna use one go ahead, but I prefer to design my own. I sketch several variations on paper, then select one to carve. Sometimes I go with scary, or sometimes humorous, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Just have fun with it!
Oh yeah, it goes without saying to put safety first. That means no young kids using sharp knives!
Step 2: Gettin' Started...
Okay, you've got the design you want, now it's time to carve your masterpiece. I carve the top piece free with my knife angled inward, so the top stays on the top. I put a small notch in the top piece so it's easy to align. Now one of the fun parts, scooping out the guts with your spoon!
Next, carefully draw your design onto the pumpkin. I use a washable marker for this.
Now you're finally ready for the fun of carving. I see so many pumpkins others have carved which are merely okay, but could be much better if only they'd taken a little more time in the carving process. In fact, I believe the reason I've won contests has been simply that I've taken a bit more time on mine.
I rough cut the design first, then go back to 'tweak' the details. A big part of tweaking is simply back-cutting the features. This has positive and negative effects. Positive = it takes a decent carving to a prize-winning one. Negative = the features will curl under in a day or so. Since I was entering mine in contests the negative didn't much matter. But keep in mind, if all you want is a killer pumpkin for Halloween then wait until the day before to back-cut while carving.
You can also have limited results in prolonging the pumpkin by applying petroleum jelly, cooking oil, hairspray, or acrylic spray to the inside 'meat' of the pumpkin. Other methods include storing it overnight in your fridge, in a bucket of water, keeping out of sunlight, covering with a wet towel during daytime, or dipping into a bucket of water mixed with a tsp of bleach.
Step 3: Now the Best Part...
Set by your door and wait for all the little ghouls and goblins to come and delight in your efforts!
Step 4: Fun Pumpkin Facts...
Pumpkins have been used throughout history as a vital food source. People used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour. They dried the shells and used them as bowls and containers to store grain, beans and seeds. They pounded and dried the pumpkin flesh into strips, and wove the strips into mats which they used for trading purposes. Pumpkins were also used as pig food.
The Pilgrims cut the top off of a pumpkin, scooped the seeds out, and filled the cavity with cream, honey, eggs and spices. They placed the top back on and carefully buried it in the hot ashes of a cooking fire. When finished cooking, they lifted this blackened item from the earth with no pastry shell whatsoever. They scooped the contents out along with the cooked flesh of the shell like a custard. Without pumpkins many of the early settlers might have died from starvation. The following poem is a testament to the Pilgrims dependence upon pumpkins for food:
For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."
Pilgrim verse, circa 1633
The Pilgrims were also known to make pumpkin beer. They fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make this early colonial brew. Pumpkins were kind of a miracle food, used to make cakes, breads, cookies, soups, stews, and stuffed pumpkin blossoms.
1 cup of cooked pumpkin flesh contains:
Protein 2 grams
Carbohydrate 12 grams
Dietary Fiber 3 grams
Calcium 37 mg
Iron 1.4 mg
Magnesium 22 mg
Potassium 564 mg
Zinc 1 mg
Selenium .50 mg
Vitamin C 12 mg
Niacin 1 mg
Folate 21 mcg
Vitamin A 2650 IU
Vitamin E 3 mg
Step 5: Recipe for Toasted Seeds...
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp oil (corn, sunflower)
1 tbsp butter (or margarine)
1-2 tsp salt
Separate the seeds from pumpkin pulp. No need to wash them, just pull the fibers and excess pulp off. Leaving remnants of the flesh on the seeds gives them a wonderful pumpkin flavor. In a bowl coat seeds with oil, butter and salt. Spread and bake on a baking sheet at 225° F until seeds are golden, crisp and dry, about 1 hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Cool and enjoy!