Perfect pumpkins are one of the favorite autumn icons. Here's how to find, carve, and care for a Halloween pumpkin.
- Consider possible locations for your pumpkin. On a front porch you may have space for a pair of large pumpkins or a trio of small, medium, and tall sizes. Smaller pumpkins can be a better fit for mantels, stairways, or windowsills.
- Look for unblemished pumpkins that are solid, not mushy.
- You'll want to select a pumpkin with at least one good side if it will be placed against a wall. All sides should be presentable if the pumpkin will be used in a table centerpiece.
- It is generally simpler to carve pumpkins with a smooth, hard surface.
- The style of your carving pattern should help determine what shape pumpkin to purchase. Smiling faces and designs with carved wording fit easily on large round pumpkins. Look for tall, narrow shapes to add variety or create spookier face designs.
- Choose your favorite pumpkin color. If zesty orange isn't in your decorating scheme, consider harder-to-find pale green, dark green, bluish gray, or all-white pumpkins.
- Consider choosing matching pairs of pumpkins for a symmetrical look on either side of a front door, or have fun putting together a mix-and-match grouping of different colors, shapes, or sizes.
- Most pumpkins need to sit flat on a table or floor, so test your pumpkin to make sure an off-center base doesn't cause it to topple over.
- Store uncut pumpkins in a cool location before carving.
Things to do before you carve your Halloween pumpkin!
- Plan to carve your pumpkin a few days before your party or before Halloween.
- Carving is messy work, so take a minute to set up a convenient work area. In warmer weather, set up an area outdoors, using a sturdy table. Place a trash can nearby.
- Protect the tabletop and/or floor with a few layers of newspaper. You'll be able to scoop out the pulp then roll up and discard it in the top layer of paper before starting with a clean surface for carving.
- Assemble your pumpkin carving tools (see list below).
- Decide which side of the pumpkin is the "front."
- Cut off the lid of the pumpkin if you'll be using candles to light it at night. Or consider cutting out the base of the pumpkin so it's easier to conceal an electric light cord. In either case, the opening should be large enough so you can insert your hand and a large scraper to scrape away the seeds and pulp from inside the pumpkin.
- Center your design, making sure it's neither too high nor too low, so the design and the opening won't compete with one another.
- Next, draw the location of the access hole and make a small mark or incision across the cutting line; this will help you realign the lid in the proper position.
- Begin cutting the lid (or base) with a sharp knife held at a 45-degree angle. (The knife should point toward the center of the pumpkin as you cut.) This angle will keep the lid in the correct location, so it doesn't slip down into the pumpkin.
- When carving, a regular kitchen knife or pumpkin saw (sold in pumpkin carving kits) can be used. Knives are faster, but not particularly precise, whereas a pumpkin saw will be more accurate but will require additional patience. Using too much pressure on a pumpkin saw may cause the blade to break.
- Once the hole is cut, use a sturdy kitchen spoon or a metal ice cream paddle to scrape the seeds and pulp off the lid and inside walls of the pumpkin.
- Reach in and remove handfuls of stringy pulp, throwing everything on newspapers, in the trash. If you'll be roasting the pumpkin seeds, place the strings and seeds into a sink full of clean water so the seeds can be cleaned thoroughly.
- Scrape until the inside of the pumpkin is free of strings, seeds, and excess pulp. Continue scraping the pulp inside the "front" of the pumpkin to reduce the thickness of the flesh where you'll be carving.
- Pumpkin tool kit including a pumpkin saw
- Pumpkin stencil
- Thin nail or pin to prick the stencil's outline
- Electric drill
- Cookie cutters to trace designs
- Woodworking tools for precise carving
- Spread out the fun by cleaning out your pumpkins one day and carving the next day.
- Look for free online pumpkin stencil designs. Print them out and use a copier to reduce or enlarge the design to fit your pumpkin.
- Oops! Cut out a piece by mistake? Try reattaching it using straight pins (though this makes it impossible to cut farther into the pinned piece).
- While carving, take a break now and then to stand back and look at the design. You may see places that need a bit more attention.
- When cutting away larger pieces, it may help to insert a tool into the center of the area that is to be cut out. From there, begin to carve until you cut away everything up to the cutting line.
- For thick pumpkins, try tracing your design with shallow cuts first. Go over the incisions, making the cut deeper and deeper until they come loose.
- Select pumpkins that are very fresh and firm. Avoid choosing a pumpkin that has bruised or soft areas or cuts or other visible blemishes.
- Store cut or uncut pumpkins in a cool dry place to keep them fresh longer. You may have a cool basement or room in the refrigerator.
- Remember that warm weather and hot sunlight can speed decay in a pumpkin. If you live in a hot climate be sure to store your uncut pumpkins in a cool spot and wait to carve them until a day or two before Halloween.
- Once a pumpkin is carved, cover it with plastic for a day or two to help keep moisture in the pumpkin.
- Smaller cut pumpkins can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for a few days before Halloween -- helpful if you are having a party and need to carve them ahead of time.
- Cover all cut edges of a pumpkin, as well as the entire interior, with petroleum jelly. This is the best way to reduce moisture loss and keep a pumpkin looking fresh longer.
- Heat from electric lightbulbs and candles can also contribute to the early demise of a pumpkin. Try cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin, allowing heat to escape.
Is your pumpkin shriveling up before Halloween? The Pumpkin Masters Web site advises that a shriveled cut pumpkin can sometimes be revived temporarily by soaking it in a bucket of cool water for several hours, then draining thoroughly.