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Tips for the Perfect Halloween Jack-O-Lantern

Photo: Homie Kates

So you’ve spent time picking out that perfect pumpkin.  You couldn’t wait.  Now, it’s perched on a post, on your deck.  Waiting, waiting, waiting….until YOU have time to carve it.  WHEN will you have time?  Don’t worry, you will.  But, until then, here’s some tips from Taste of Home to help keep your pumpkin healthy, until you make it a jack-o-lantern.  (with comments from me, Cathy Kates)

*Never carry your pumpkin by the stem. It’s part of the visual allure, and if it snaps, it can accelerate the pumpkin’s rotting. Always carry the pumpkin from the bottom. (I know, it’s a perfect handle, but you can use your pumpkin at the bowling alley if you loose your stem!)

*Store your uncut pumpkin in a cool, dry place. Once pumpkins ripen, they will deteriorate fast—heat and light speed up the process. (Ok, get it off the deck post in the backyard. You’ll have to go back to admiring the squirrels raiding your bird feeder!)

*Wash the exterior of the pumpkin before carving. Use a solution of 1 gallon water and 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach. This will help prevent mold. (We NEVER washed our pumpkin when I was a kid. Came out of the ground, it’s SUPPOSE to be dirty!)

*Draw your pattern on paper or use a pumpkin-carving template. This is easier and cleaner than drawing right on the pumpkin and makes revisions a snap. (Same concept as drawing on the egg with a crayon during Easter, except you don’t carve an egg.)

*To transfer a template to the pumpkin, enlarge it, cut it out and adhere it to the pumpkin with masking tape. Then either use pinpricks to mark the shapes and lines on the pumpkin or use a craft or utility knife and cut through the design to score it on the surface. (Life is so much more “thought through” than when I was young. We measured nothing, just started hacking with the machete to create eyes, nose and mouth. You TRIED to make teeth, if you screwed up, you cut off the tooth and went with a toothless grin.)

*Don’t just think of face designs. Moons, stars, cats and witches are all fun and easy to do. You can even use a drill to make patterned light holes. (ONLY USE A DRILL IF YOUR AN ADULT IS PRESENT! Technically, ONLY CARVE YOUR PUMPKIN WITH AN ADULT PRESENT!)

*Consider buying a pumpkin-carving kit. Often they can be found for just a few dollars. Kits usually contain small scoops and serrated saws that aren’t commonly found in the typical toolbox. They’re great for detailed carving work. (LOL, detailed carving work. Funny. Did I mention we’d say “I WANTED a toothless smile”, if we accidentally cut off the one raised piece of pumpkin flesh that suppose to be identified as a tooth.)

*When cutting out your shapes, always use a sawing motion. Go slowly and gently. A small serrated saw is best for the detail work. Never try to forcefully cut your pumpkin with a straight-edge razor — you’ll damage the pumpkin, hurt the knife and possibly cut yourself! (Yes, grabbing 10 minutes between soccer practice and and your cub scout meeting is probably not the best time to carve your pumpkin. Leave adequate time, take pictures to share on Facebook, make memories with your family.)

*The more pumpkins in your display, the better. Four or five small pumpkins have much more visual impact than one large one. (Let’s see how I do with the first pumpkin and I’ll consider the suggestion.)

*If scraping out a pumpkin is too much hassle for you, consider buying a hollow acrylic or craft pumpkin. These are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to their realistic appearance and their ease in carving. Yes, you carve these soft plastic pumpkins just like a real one; most are made to be about 1/4 inch thick with inside colors that match a real pumpkin. And they last forever, meaning instant jack-o’-lanterns for next year! (Amen, all for it! Who has time to roast pumpkin seeds anyhow!)


My daughter Kylee wanted to be creative this year.  So, she carved our Schnauzer’s face, Ruemmele into our Pumpkin (artistic genes from other side of family).  What do you think?  Should she start carving Dairy Princess Butter Busts at the Minnesota State Fair?

Photo: Homie Kates

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