Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pumpkin carving questions

We've decided to get a bit more into the Halloween spirit than previously planned, and go beyond some candy and the porch light and actually get ourselves a pumpkin. The pumpkin itself has already been purchased and is currently sitting in our garage.

So... now what? When I was a kid my dad was in charge of pumpkin carving and my mom was in charge of pumpkin seed roasting. Nobody in our family really liked eating the pumpkin itself so we never did anything with that. I remember my dad cutting open the top of the pumpkin, and working with my sister to scoop out the guts and seeds and dump them into a mixing bowl. Then my mom would clean off the seeds and put them on a baking pan to roast while my dad would carve.

I think I can handle the pumpkin seed roasting (with a bit of help from Master Chef Google), but the carving is where I'm a little stuck. And Torsten isn't of much help--apparently Germany only recently started celebrating Halloween, well after his childhood ended. I don't think he's ever participated in the creation of a jack-o'-lantern before.

I'm trying to think back on how my dad did it, and I'm pretty sure he just hacked into the pumpkin with a carving knife. We didn't do anything special beforehand, and our designs were always pretty simple (although one year he did carve a dog face into the pumpkin, which was awesome).

But my sister (who is up on these things because she has two soon-to-be-stepchildren) says that pumpkin carving is actually a lot more complicated than that. Apparently you're supposed to thin out the inside of the pumpkin first? And you buy pumpkin carving kits with special knives and design suggestions? And it's all very complicated?

So what this all boils down to is that I need your help, because I have several questions:

1. Should we just hack away at our pumpkin with a knife, or do we need to do something more sophisticated? If so, what should it be?

2. Once we've carved the damn thing, do we put an actual candle in it? Or some sort of electric something or other that's a tad less flammable near children's costumes?

3. Do we have to worry that if we put the pumpkin on our porch, some bored teenagers will smash it? Should we put it in our window instead?

4. Should we do something cooking-related with the pumpkin innards (other than the seeds)? If so, what?

5. If you're carving a pumpkin this year, what kind of design are you going to do?


  1. I can help with one question...the type of pumpkins you carve (the big ones) aren't really good for eating. If you want to eat a pumpkin, get one of the smaller ones, usually called "sugar pumpkins" at the store. Sugar pumpkins are sweeter and have less fibrous innards. The seeds in the big jack-o-lantern pumpkin are fine to eat, though.

  2. First, hack into the top of the pumpkin and make a little lid.

    Second, scoop out all the seeds, which I guess is also thinning it out. Otherwise, the insides may rot relatively quickly.

    Third, hack into the front of it with your design.

    If you want to do a complicated design, go for it, but you certainly don't have to. The whole pumpkin carving event doesn't need to be complicated unless you want it to be.

    I've always put my pumpkin on the front step, and it's never been smashed. If it does get smashed, eh, it's just a pumpkin.

  3. Oh, I forgot your other questions.

    Use a candle. I've never seen an electric doohickey for pumpkins.

    I am pretty sure the inside goop would not be that tasty.

  4. I spent a $1.99 last year and bought a pumpkin carving set at Rite Aide,w hich came witha book of designs. It was my first time and it turned out pretty good and the tools are reusable so they'll be coming out again in a week or so :)

    We put a battery operated flickering candle inside it just ebcause of fire hazards. I ahd an apartment building go up in flames once and since then, I am scared of open fires of any type around my dwelling.

  5. 1 - It will be SO much easier if you buy the kit. They have these mini serrated knives that make the job much easier and more fun. Plus, they come with easy and fun stencils. Clearly I take my carving seriously. The kits are sold at CVS or Rite Aid or whatever you have for only $10 or so.

    2 - Definitely thin it out. Makes the process easier. Just scrape the sides with the scooper that comes in the kit.

    3 - I can't remember your 3rd question.

    4 - use the stencil.

    5- I've smashed a pumpkin or 2 in my day. Maybe keep the nice, carved one inside until Halloween night.

    have fun!

  6. We used to do pumpking carvings and then when I was in college we did even more elaborate ones. If you want to do something different without the mess of hacking up a pumpking, getting the guts everwhere, etc. Buy paint pens and just draw something on it. Like these Its just as fun and less messy. The pumpkin will last longer too.

  7. 1. For your first pumpkin experience, I would highly recommend the traditional pumpkin face. Just go at it with a knife - no thinning necessary.

    2. Real candle.

    3. Yes, a teenager may smash it. Put it on your porch for trick-or-treating, bring it in when you turn out your porch light.

    4. Stick with the seeds.

    5. I'm carving an M in mine, B will probably do a traditional face. We'll see!

  8. I'd say just hack into it with a knife, old-school style. Pumpkin seeds are delicious, pumpkin innards are not. Hope that helps!

  9. Make a lid, scoop out the innards, make two triangles for eyes, a small triangle for the nose, and a bunch of joined triangles for the mouth. Put a candle in it (on a base, so it doesn't tip over and stuff) light candle, put on stoop.

    if it gets smashed, repeat process.

  10. The kits come with little knives that are much easier to use than a regular kitchen knife.

    I don't think anyone will smash it unless you leave it out (and burning) all night.

    Have fun! I love carving pumpkins. Hopefully we will get one for our apartment.

  11. I SUCK at carving, so I let Matthew do it. My job is to roast the seeds. Mmmmm...salty goodness.

  12. NZ and Australia have only recently begun halloween too so I cant be helpful re:carving, but I DO have a good use for the pumpkin innards. I hate pumpkin but love pumpkin scones (they dont taste like pumpkin but do have the colour). So I'll leave you the recipe in case you decide to try it. What I especially like is that you can just dump it onto an oven tray, you dont have to cut scone shapes or anything! You might want to halve this recipe since there are just two of you (oh and they freeze well too).


    4 cups self raising flour
    2 teaspoons butter
    2 cups cold mashed pumpkin
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    Pinch salt
    2 tablespoons milk or hot water

    Cook pumpkin then drain and mash. While pumpkin mash is hot, add butter and sugar, stir and let cool.

    Add eggs and mix in well. Add self raising flour. If too stiff, add a little milk.

    Pour onto floured oven tray, lightly baste in milk and cook at 395F degrees for 10-15 minutes.

  13. 1. Cut a circle around the stem to use as a lid.
    2. scoop out all the guts and try to spoon out some of the 'hard' walls on the side you want to make the design. This is not complicated and just makes it easier to cut bc you have to go through less area.
    3. either get one of the kits (at the grocery store fo rlike $5) or just draw your own design on with a sharpie - maybe just your typical jack o lantern face for your first endeavor. Simple is classic.
    4. Use the saw like knife that comes with your kit or a kitchen knife - but not a carving knife - it will be too hard. Try using a bread knife or a knife with serrated (sp?) teeth.
    5. I wouldn't worry about putting it on your porch.
    6. Since last week was fire safety week and I sat through 6 presentations to kindergarteners on fire safety, I would suggest a flashlight or electronic tea light over a candle. Then you can light it every night if youwant.

    It's really not hard and is a lot of fun!

  14. too bad I didn't know you were posting this, or I could have added another question about what kind of paint you use on pumpkins - John's mom and younger siblings are coming over for Halloween so we were thinking of getting little pumpkins for each kid to paint. John suggested watercolors. I suggested that most likely will not adhere to the surface of a pumpkin. Though I did see one comment about paint pens, so I will look into those.

    Oh, and I think we came up with a costume idea - Popeye and Olive Oyl (John has always loved Popeye and when he was a kid he tried to get his arms to look like that, lol).

    and last year we made a pumpkin pie out of the innards - John found the recipe on google and I have no clue how we did it, though I think he's planning to find the recipe again and attempt a repeat of last year's success.

    If I remember, I'll email you a picture of the pumpkin he carved last year so you can see the difference between Dad's pumpkins. Though I do still love that dog pumpkin he made!!!

    okay, super long comment complete.

  15. Repeat: the kits are cheap--and the knives much easier to use than the standard kitchen knife. Which isn't to say you can't make a lovely carving with the kitchen knife if you don't feel like purchasing a special knife!

    Make sure to take a picture of your pumpkin before it gets old/moldy/smashed.

    The electric doohickeys are just as fun as the candles--and you get get one that shines in PURPLE. Just sayin' (we Q's like the candles).

    Yes, some of those kits have really cool patterns--and even software where you can download them or CREATE YOUR OWN pattern. I find for MY kids, I'd rather just hide the patterns and cut what they draw on the pumpkin face, as those patterns are a LOT of work for three pumpkins and my little cutting hand!

    (Last year I was so daunted about the whole affair and so busy with work/life/etc., the pumpkins got set out on the front step where I CONVENIENTLY forgot all about them! Bad Mommy!)

  16. No tips for the carving itself from this German but I read that it's a good idea to spray the pumpkin with hair spray (inside and out) because that preserves the
    pumpkin for longer and it won't rot as quickly. Obviously you do that before you put a candle in it.

  17. I totally recommend getting the pumpkin carving kit. They come with a variety of little saws, which are a lot easier and safer to carve with than a huge knife. Plus they have a lot of cute designs to choose from. To keep the designs clean, just make a copy of it, then use the copy to trace the design onto the pumpkin.

  18. If you go with a simple design, you shouldn't have to thin out the flesh. Some of the designs that come with the carving kits are pretty intricate, in which case you will want to scrape the "face side" of the pumpkin with the edge of a large spoon to make the carving easier. We just use a steak knife to carve and it works out well. We use candles (tealights) in clear holders.

  19. I've never heard about scraping the inside walls down for carving, but i guess if it makes it easier to cut through it, go ahead. But it's totally not necessary.

    I'm in charge of cleaning the pumpkin seeds, too, so keep in mind that it's a disgusting job, but if you salt the seeds enough, they're really quite good after they're roasted!

    Also, they goop that you scoop out of the pumpkin is really just the fibers that hold the seeds to the inner walls. I wouldn't say that part is really edible. It's the hard, fleshy walls that you cook down and mash for your various pumpkiny baked goods so that's not going to work with your jack-o-lantern pumpkin.
    If you're interested in cooking a pumpkin, buy a whole new one, wash it as best you can and cut it open the same way you would for a jack-o-lantern (open the top, scoop out the seeds and innards). Then, cut it up into large pieces (discard the stem area) that will fit into a stock pot, and boil the hell out of it. When the pumpkin is softer, it's easy to peel the skin off. So peel the skin and mash it until it's smooth. You could use a food processor which will make the job much easier.
    Voila! Pumpkin mash that can be made into all of your favorite pumpkin baked goods. You can freeze whatever you don't use, btw, and use it later.

  20. Sorry, that was a long comment and i'm going to leave another one. I forgot to mention, that in my experience, leaving a carved jack-o-lantern in the house for too long before Halloween really speeds up the rate at which it rots. I'm guessing it's because of the heat being on. And pumpkins get really gross when they rot. When it's colder outside, they seem to last for much longer. Though, you have to watch out for squirrels! They really love the seasonal buffet. :)

  21. Here are the only two things I know about it:

    1. When you cut the lid, cut it with a little triangle notch in one place. Makes it easier to put it back on the right way.

    2. Carve it really close to Halloween, because as soon as you carve it, it starts to rot. Also, if you keep it in your house before Halloween, you will be so so sorry: they reek like you would not believe.

    Oh, wait, I know one more thing:

    3. It's easier to use permanent markers.

  22. Oh! I know a fourth thing!

    4. At Target a few years ago we found battery-operated flickering "candles" for inside pumpkins. We bought a few, and we use those. It relieves my "fire right next to the house" anxiety.

  23. I love pumpkin carving. And the carving sets you can get aren't very expensive and come with a great scraping tool. Trust me, it doesn't look like it would do much but it does!

    I always like to do a puking pumpkin...b/c I'm 5 :)

  24. We always cut the bottom out of the pumpkin rather than around the stem. That way you can just put the candle on the ground and place the pumpkin over top of it and you don't have to worry about your candle wobbling over from resting on an unevenly scooped out bottom of the pumpkin.

    I've also found that the scrappers you get in the kits are SO MUCH EASIER than trying to scoop it out with your hand/spoon. Especialy because the size of it makes it easier to get your hand in there at a good angle.

  25. Oh, I've also heard of people just drilling holes throughout the pumpkin and putting Christmas lights through the holes. Cute idea if you're looking at using an electric light.

  26. Just go at it anyway you like, I say. Really, you can't mess up a jack o' lantern, and I think flawed ones are the best kind.

  27. You pretty much have the Compleat Book of Pumpkin Carving in your comments, but I inexplicably love carving so much I must add:

    1. Buy a kit. It's cheap and the little serrated knives are so much lighter and easier to use than kitchen knives.

    2. If you do opt for the candle vs battery powered, be sure to set your pumpkin lid on at a slight angle. This allows the flame to get some air and keeps it from going out. (Re: pumpkins out front--while not generally a nervous person, I always put the pumpkins in the window. It would piss me off too much if somebody smashed it, plus kids + flame just seems like a bad combination)

    3. Re: the goop: throw it out. The goop is my least favorite part of carving. Yick.

  28. I second the suggest to make the opening at the bottom of the pumpkin, particularly if you're using a real candle. Because one year the candle I used got a little hot and basically started to "cook" the cut-out part of the pumpkin, which shrank and then fell through the hole, and splattered on the candle, get the idea.

    I've never used one of the fancy kits, but I must confess I think they look kind of fun.

  29. Know what we use to carve our pumpkin? A jig saw. :D It is so much quicker than just using a big knife, but that works too. I would recommend a mini pumkin carving kit if you see one for a couple bucks. And we just put cheap candles in ours. It's your first year, so keep it simple and have fun!

  30. I can tell you one thing- don't buy one of those pumpking carving kits. THEY SUCK.

  31. I always had good luck with the pumpkin carving kit. Plus, I really shouldn't use sharp objects.

  32. Go to the history channel website (seriously, it's fun, here's the link and they've got all these free stencils and fun things about jack-o-lanters and stuff. Good nerdy times

  33. We used to use the pumpkin carving kits and those worked great. I wouldn't worry about kids ruining the pumpkins too, I'm sure it'll be fine.

  34. Thank you very much for this! Also, if you are interested you should really pick up Extreme Pumpkins. I bought it last year and i was able to create some of the best pumpkins i've ever made. I just looked, and apparently it's on sale at amazon right now!

  35. hi every person,

    I identified after previous months and I'm very excited much to commence participating. I are basically lurking for the last month but figured I would be joining and sign up.

    I am from Spain so please forgave my speaking english[url=].[/url][url=].[/url][url=].[/url]

  36. It is my first post here, so I would like to say hallo to all of you! It is definitely pleasure to be adjacent to your community!