16 October 2016

Halloween — Pumpkin Carving Instructions

A piece of American culture, for those who have never participated before.

You will need
 your pumpkin (I bought one for $5, but prices vary) – larger pumpkins are easier to carve. Mine is about 12 inches or 30 cm diameter. (A little bigger is a lot heavier.)
 old newspaper to work on
  a kitchen knife with a long sturdy blade to cut the lid, and a large strong spoon to scoop the seeds and pulp from inside and to thin the walls (1 inch or 2.5cm is ideal). Hold the spoon by its bowl to get better control while scooping, and avoid bending the handle!
 a serrated pumpkin saw for cutting through the flesh and skin. You can find them at at CVS, Target, or a grocery store (individually or as part of a set) for approximately 2-5$. The alternative is a thin serrated knife or a steak knife. The serrated saw or knife is the most important thing. The scoop from a set is also useful.  For example:
 some large ziplock bags or large yoghurt containers for your pumpkin seeds and flesh (which is not very edible) if you want to keep them.
 some old supermarket bags for the discarded bits of pumpkin and soggy newspaper.
 some patterns, or you can do your own design
 some push pins to transfer the patterns to the pumpkins
 some tea candles to light your pumpkin.

Here are some basic instructions:

Place the pumpkin on newspaper for easy cleanup.
Cut a circle around the stem of the pumpkin, using a knife with a long sturdy blade. Leave a large enough hole to easily insert your hand. (Make the cut at an angle to keep the top from falling through when you place it back on.) Use a back and forth sawing motion to cut through the tough skin and thick flesh. It is possible to break a knife if you are not careful.

Use a large spoon, holding it by the bowl, to scrape out the pulp and seeds and to thin the walls to about an inch (2.5cm).  Cleaning and thinning can be messy.           

Don't throw out the seeds if you want to roast them.
Before making that first cut of the jack-o'-lantern's face, study all sides of the pumpkin to find the smoothest side.
This year, for the first time ever, some creature (a squirrel?) has been nibbling at my pumpkin.  I'll have to make sure my design cuts out those places.
Draw the design on a piece of paper or print out a jack-o'-lantern carving stencil.
Tape the paper to the pumpkin, then transfer the design onto the pumpkin by punching through the paper into the pumpkin flesh with a large nail or a push pin.
With your pumpkin saw, or a sharp serrated knife, cut out the design using the punched holes as a guide. Remove the cut-out pieces by pushing them out from the inside of the pumpkin.
The finished result is ready to be lit on that most eerie of nights!  

When you light the candle inside the pumpkin, remove or tilt the lid to allow the hot air to escape.  
(Who knows, if you place your lit pumpkin outside your door as night begins to fall, you might answer a knock to some ghouls and goblins, or spiderman and a fairy princess, who can only be appeased with Halloween candy!  But unfortunately not in the era of covid.)

Preserving the cut pumpkin until Halloween
Unfortunately pumpkins rot, and much faster when they have been cut, so delay cutting until as late as possible.
If you cannot find room in your refrigerator, try to keep your pumpkin outside in the cooler air.
Vaseline (petroleum jelly) smeared over the cut surfaces will slow down the rotting.

Cooking the seeds:
Rinse the seeds, removing pulp with your fingers. Drain, spread out and allow to dry overnight.  The picture shows the final rinse of the seeds in a bowl of water.
Bake seeds about one hour at 250F on oiled oven tray, tossing every 15-20 mins, until golden brown.
Microwave: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a suitable baking dish for 30 seconds. Add seeds, toss to coat with oil and spread over bottom of dish. Cook on high for 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Stir every two minutes and watch closely.

When they are cooked you can eat the seeds with the shell, which is quite tough. Shelling them is slow work but the seeds will be more palatable.