29 October 2010

Halloween Countdown Day 3: So Now You Have a Pumpkin.

You may be asking yourself, "What now?"

Well fear not, I'm here to guide you through a painless, stress-free pumpkin experience.


Pumpkins are so versatile, aren't they? Bake them into pies and breads, roast them with butter, blend them up into a soup, and of course carve strange faces into them and set them on your porch.

I wish I had time to go through all the different things one could do with a pumpkin, but that would take waaaay more than one post. Today, I'll just be going over the use that everyone is probably seeing the most of these days: pumpkin carving.

Isn't carving pumpkins such a strange tradition? Apparently the Irish and British have been carving lanterns out of all sorts of vegetables for ages- since the year 1239, to be exact. In the USA, the jack-o-lantern was originally just associated with the fall harvest, not halloween exclusively. I'm guessing it made the jump around the same time kids started going door to door asking for treats and there were more factories than farm houses in America. 

Anyways, it's here to stay as a halloween tradition now, so I always try to take advantage of it and find myself a nice big squash to cut images in. When I was younger, my parents, my sister, and I would always carve pumpkins for halloween. My sister and I would each get our own pumpkin and pick out the face we wanted and our Dad would help us carve it out. It was always so much fun, and I'm glad to be carrying on the tradition even though I'm a few hours away from home.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, Stewie and I went to the Chino Valley pumpkin patch last weekend and picked out a couple of pumpkins. I realize you can buy a pumpkin for 4 dollars at frys, but that's not really the same experience, is it? You get your pumpkin any way you want. I won't judge.

When I was younger my jack-o-lantern faces always had the same triangle eyes with a semi-circle pupil, another geometrical nose, and a wide smile with teeth sticking out in odd places. Since I've gotten older though, I've become interested in experimenting with my pumpkin carving. This year I decided to try a technique I've seen a lot of online- carving away some of the orange but leaving a layer of the white insides for the light to shine through. I think it went well- you'll get to see at the end.

Alright. How about some jack-o-lantern tips from a highly esteemed pumpkin carver? lol. why don't we just get to it.

1. Lay out lots of newspaper on a steady table. You may notice that Stewie and I did not have any newspaper so we took the staples out of a victorias secret catalog and spread the pages all over the table. Also put a large pot or bowl on the table to put the seeds and gunk in. Grab a few knives of various sizes.

2. Cut a lid into the top of your pumpkin. Make sure you make a notch like the one shown above so you'll be able to fit the lid on the right way each time you take it on and off.

3. Scoop out all of the seeds and stringy crap. Save the seeds if you like, they make awesome snacks. I'll post a bit about that tomorrow. Oh, and don't bother trying to use a spoon to do this part. You are going to need to use your hands. They will get gross and slimy. But I guarantee you will have fun, and the job will get done a million times faster than if you had used a spoon.
4. This picture is kind of weird, but the inside of the pumpkin is nice and clean. Once you get as much goop out of the pumpkin with your hands as you can, take a sharp-ish edged spoon and scoop the rest out. you have to really dig into the side of the pumpkin and take some of the white out with the stringy orange stuff to really get it out.

5. ALWAYS draw out what you want to carve beforehand. Sketch it out on paper first and then transfer it to something like a large paper towel or piece of newspaper that can be conformed to the side of the pumpkin. Make sure it's the size and position you want it, and then tape it to the pumpkin.

6. Using a thumb tack, poke holes along the lines of your drawing. This will make it so that you can tell where to cut after you take the paper off to avoid any mistakes.

7. Take out small chunks at a time. Don't try to carve out an entire large area at once- rather take it out piece by piece. It's much, much easier.

8. Take your time. If you decide to do something like I did (where I have a thinner layer of pumpkin as the moon and then then left an orange cat in front of it), carve slowly and carefully, being aware of how thin the layer is in all places. Carve away the orange from around where your center image (in this case the cat) is, so that you don't accidentally carve away too much later. I made my moon about 3/8'' thick.

This shaving-off-the-orange technique took me a looong time, and I had to shift positions and knives a couple times. My design wasn't even that complicated so I can't even imagine how long those really crazy pumpkins you see online took.

In the end I think it was worth the extra effort, though. Here they are after being carved:

And here they are when we put them in Stewie's bedroom, put candles inside, and shut off all the lights! It would be cooler if the shades weren't still lit up, but it was like 4 in the afternoon...


Both of ours together
I really like how these turned out. I love the glowing orange moon with the cat silhouette! And of course an apple as an homage to the delicious autumn fruit. Stewie's turned out amazing as well, and now they both look awesome together on a table next to our window aimed out at the occasional passer-by.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what kinds of things you can do with the seeds, as well as give you a couple other halloween snack and treat ideas!

Happy Carving :)


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