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Pumpkin Carving

Posted by admin On May - 17 - 2011

Pumpkin Carving

An unlit Halloween pumpkin is like a cupcake with no frosting. Putting a lantern in the window to light the way for the spirits of the dead is one of the original Halloween traditions. Today’s carved pumpkin Jack O’Lantern was inspired by the Irish legend of Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack tried to cheat both the Devil and God, and wasn’t allowed in Heaven or Hell after he died.  Instead, the Devil gave him a piece of burning coal and put it in a turnip and set Jack loose to wander the earth forever.  People began carving turnips with scary faces meant to frighten Jack and other evil spirits away.  When Irish immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were easier to carve and made better lanterns for candles than turnips did, and the Jack O’Lantern of today was born.

Pumpkins are native to North America and have been grown by native peoples for at least 5,000 years.  Mostly used today as a Halloween and Fall decoration or as pie filling, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable.  For many years, simple carved pumpkins were the most popular type of pumpkin, with the common scary face being what appeared in Halloween artwork and stories.  A character named “Jack Pumpkinhead” with a carved pumpkin head appeared in the Wizard of Oz stories in the early 20th century.  The “Headless Horseman” from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” threw his severed head which had taken the shape of a carved pumpkin at Ichabod Crane.

In more recent years, pumpkin carving has turned into an artform, with food art expanding far beyond traditional Halloween symbols.  “Extreme Pumpkin Carving” has its own festivals and awards.  Pumpkin carving patterns, kits and tools are a popular Halloween commercial industry.

Expert pumpkin carvers advise deciding what type of face or other image you want to carve on your pumpkin before you go pumpkin shopping.  Like buying any fruit, select firm, unblemished pumpkins that are as fresh as possible.

Carving a traditional pumpkin is easy and fun.  A sharp, strong knife is needed, and a large spoon or scoop, for scooping out the pulp and seeds.  When you cut out the lid of the pumpkin, angle the knife inward so that the top won’t fall in when you replace it.  Using your hand and a large spoon or scoop, remove all the inside gooey material.  Scrape as much as you can from the sides, because extra pulp contributes to mold and deterioration.  Be sure to scrape a flat area at the bottom of the pumpkin for your candle or light. Many people save the seeds and roast them for pumpkin seed treats.

After picking the best side of the pumpkin for your face, mark the eyes, nose (optional) and mouth with a crayon or marker – the traditional grinning face with sharp teeth and scary eyes is the most popular.  Be sure to make the openings big enough for the light to shine through.  Cutting carefully, poke the knife all the way through the flesh.  When the openings are finished, be sure to push the pieces inward, because pushing them outward can damage the outer orange flesh and ruin the shapes.

More elaborate, artistic and outrageous pumpkins are carved using stencils.  You can make your own stencil or buy pre-made ones with virtually any image you want.  The stencil is taped securely to the pumpkin, and tools like carving saws, pokers and sharp knives of various sizes are used to create the fine shapes and details.  Pumpkin-carving toolkits are sold commercially, but most people have the types of knives and other items like ice picks and small saws in their kitchens or toolboxes.  Experts say that sharp knives can be safer and more effective than specially-made pumpkin carving tools.

Carved pumpkins have been lit by candles for years.  When placed safely away from children, small votive candles in clear glass holders can be safe and effective.  Battery-operated pumpkin lights are available in most stores, in a wide range of sizes and price options.  Glow sticks can also provide a creepy inner pumpkin glow.

Finally, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending time on carving a pumpkin only to have it collapse or mold within a day or two.  You can extend the life of your carved pumpkin by coating exposed parts of the flesh with petroleum jelly, or using products similar to fresh flower preservative.  “Pumpkin Fresh” is a spray product that helps to slow down dehydration and cut out mold.  If you have a refrigerator space, you can refrigerate the pumpkin during times it’s not on display.  Keep the pumpkin away from direct heat and extra sunlight and it’s possible it could last for weeks, and not days.