Choose the Right Pumpkin
Choosing just the right pumpkin is the first step to creating that perfect jack-o-lantern. You want a fresh, healthy pumpkin, because it will be strong enough to hold up to carving, and it will last longer after you cut into it.
1. It’s all about that stem – You want a pumpkin with the stem still on, and a stem that is still a little green. You also want a sturdy, thick stem. To get the freshest, go to a pumpkin patch where you can pick own pumpkin right out of the field.
2. Check for blemishes – You want a pumpkin without any bruising, soft spots, wrinkles or other damage that could cause premature rotting. Also select a pumpkin with uniform coloring.
3. Shape matters – The best carving pumpkins have uniform, rounded sides with a flat bottom. The flat bottom will ensure your carved pumpkin doesn’t roll away. Look for a place that offers a variety of pumpkin aptly named Jack-O-Lantern. This variety was bred specifically to have features that are desirable for carving.
4. Bigger is better – Large pumpkins are easier to carve, you have a bigger work surface. Also, a pumpkin that’s heavier than it looks is a quality pumpkin.
Carving Your Pumpkin Masterpiece
1. There are three options for the opening you’ll make to clean the pumpkin out and place your light source.
- Top – It’s standard practice to cut the hole in the top. If you do, angle your knife at 45 degrees when you make the cut. This solves the problem of the top falling inside the pumpkin when you put the “lid” on.
- Back – Pumpkins are vine plants, and it turns out that stem is there for a reason. It delivers moisture and nutrients to the pumpkin. By severing the stem from the pumpkin when you cut a “lid” in the top, you actually speed up the rotting process. You can solve this problem by cutting the hole in the back of your pumpkin. And there’s no tricky “lid” to deal with either.
- Bottom – You can also cut the hole in the bottom of the pumpkin. This allows you to cut off any bumps that may be on the bottom, so the jack-o-lantern sits flat. It also leaves the stem intact, and there’s no “lid” like the above method. Finally, you can just place the pumpkin over your light source, rather than having to put your hand inside. This is really helpful if you choose to use a candle to light your jack-o-lantern. The one con to cutting a hole in the bottom is that sometimes moisture will run out from inside the pumpkin. So place the pumpkin on something that will protect the surface it’s sitting on, if you want to keep it clean and dry.
2. Get it squeaky clean – The cleaner your carved pumpkin is on the inside, the longer it will last.
3. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to remove all the seeds and pulp.
4. Take off a little extra – Once the seeds and pulp are gone, remove a little more of the inside flesh. This helps remove moisture from the pumpkin which increases longevity. Don’t take of too much. You want the walls to be at least an inch thick.
5. Plan ahead – Before you start carving your design, carefully select the side you want to use. Then draw your design on with a pencil or marker. Or use template printed on paper. Trace the design by using a nail or pin to score the pumpkin. Remove the template and connect the dots with your knife.
6. Use the right tools – Anything sharp works. Paring knives and small serrated knives are great. A small saw will even work. The pumpkin carving kits sold in stores are good and are generally kid safe. For intricate designs, you can use a lemon zester, rasp, Exacto knife and even clay sculpting tools like a ribbon hoop. Use a sawing motion when making big cuts. This helps cut through the thick wall of the pumpkin.
7. Put it in your lap – Holding the pumpkin in your lap gives you maximum control. Especially for intricate work. Just be careful not to cut yourself.
Making Your Carved Pumpkin Last
1. Wait as long as you can to carve – Even using all the preservation methods, your carved pumpkin will only last a few days. If you need your jack-o-lantern for a party decoration, wait to carve it until the day before your event.
2. Give it a bath – Wash you completed jack-o-lantern in a bleach and water solution. This kills any bacteria on the pumpkin.
3. Cover carved areas with petroleum jelly – Petroleum jelly will form a barrier to keep bacteria out and also prevent the pumpkin from drying out.
4. Disinfect daily – Spray the pumpkin each day with a solution of water and bleach. There are also commercial pumpkin preservation sprays you can buy.
5. Keep it cool – Place your pumpkin outside, in a shady spot. If you live where it’s warm, consider bringing it inside during the day and storing it wrapped in your refrigerator. Then bring it out at night.
6. Use a cool light source – While candles are traditional, they make your pumpkin warm, speeding up decay. Use a battery operated light source light an LED light or flamless candle instead. You also don’t have to worry about your jack-o-lantern being a fire hazard that way.
7. Soak in water – If your pumpkin starts to shrivel and dry out, try soaking it in water to re-hydrate.
8. Don’t carve your pumpkin at all – Use paint, markers or decals to decorate your pumpkin instead of cutting into it. An uncarved pumpkin stored in a cool place can last until Thanksgiving or even longer!