Turning pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is one of the great treats of Halloween, and it can be a great activity for your family to do together. On NBC’s “Today” show, Diana Murphy, editor-in-chief of Country Living Gardener magazine, shares some last-minute carving tricks and ideas for decorating your pumpkin. Read some of her tips below.
TOOLS FOR CARVING You can buy a carving kit, but it’s also easy to put one together yourself. Here are some tools you’ll need:
1. Paring knife or strong kitchen knife to cut the lid off
2. Sturdy spoon or ice cream spade to scrape out the membrane
3. Exacto knife with a longer serrated saw blade on it (you can buy these at any hardware or arts supply store) to cut out the design and cut the vent in the top of the pumpkin.
CARVING THE PUMPKIN Many people cut the hole in the top by carving around the stem and using it as a lid, but other people say it’s easier to cut it out of the bottom and just set the pumpkin right over the candle or bulb. The key here is no matter where you cut from, if you’re using a candle, you should always make sure to cut a small hole in the top for ventilation.
The next step is taking out the seeds. This is a great job for kids. They love to get the gooey mess out. Then you just need to carve out enough of the pumpkin so that the light will shine through, but not too much or the walls will collapse (about 3/4 inch or an inch).
Don’t forget about the inside of the pumpkin. You can use it to make pumpkin pie or pumpkin seeds, which can also be a fun project with your kids.
CARVING YOUR DESIGN This year, instead of the traditional scary faces, try more feel-good or decorative designs. Dragonflies, maple leafs and hearts can be fun and stars and stripes are great for a patriotic theme.
When creating your design, you can either trace a stencil with a permanent marker (pumpkins are waxy, so other pens don’t take as well to the texture) or you can press a cookie cutter into the pumpkin and then carve from the impression.
If you’re artistic, you can also draw freehand right on the pumpkin.
If your kids are too young to handle a knife, you can have them help with the design or paint right on the pumpkin.
Once you’ve finished carving your pumpkin, you need to put the candle in. Tea lights, votives or pillar candles are best. Or if you want to use a tapered candle, you can fill the bottom with sand or hammer a small, short nail through the bottom and use that as a prong to hold up the candle. You can also use a flash light if you’d like to avoid using candles.
DECORATING WITH PUMPKINS Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. They are an emblem of fall. People can decorate with pumpkins for parties this weekend or for their fall entertaining. These designs are particularly suited for that and pumpkins are available right up to Thanksgiving.
Diana Murphy is editor-in-chief of Country Living Gardener magazine.