Having carved jack o’lanterns every fall from the time I was tiny, I was surprised several years ago to find out that some of my friends had never done it at all! Now, every year we host a pumpkin carving party for our friends! Since we host foreign exchange students, and since pumpkin-carving is largely an American Halloween tradition, I usually give lessons to at least one person at the party each year. If you’ve never carved a jack o’lantern, here are instructions on how to do it:
- Cut the top off of the pumpkin by cutting a hole at least five or six inches in diameter, with the stem in the middle. Angle the knife so that you’re not sawing in a completely up-and-down motion; if you do, the top will fall into the hole that you’ve created. A 45-degree angle will prevent this.
- Carefully remove the top. You may need to cut away some of the strings in order to take it off. Once you have it removed, use a knife to take the pulp and strings off of the top.
- Use a spoon or plastic pumpkin scoop to start scooping out the inside of the pumpkin. This is a good job for your child. Depending on the age of the child and his experience with carving pumpkins, he may quit after one minute, or he might be able to remove most of the pulp. You will need to make sure that the entire pumpkin is scraped clean; this takes a while. Put all of the pulp, strings and seeds into a bowl and set it aside for now.
- Wipe the goo off of the outside of the pumpkin and decide on a design. The easiest designs are faces: three triangles for the eyes and nose, and a half-circle, with or without jagged teeth, for the mouth. If you’ve purchased a pumpkin-carving kit, it may have come with stencils. Give these a try if you’re feeling patient; otherwise, just go with the face. Draw the design with a thin permanent marker or scratch it in with a pencil or pen, then make your cuts with a small sharp knife or a pumpkin-carver with a serrated edge. Try to hold the knife or carver perpendicular to the pumpkin so that the pieces slide out easily. For larger or very intricate pieces, you may need to cut them into several sections to aid with removal. Poke the pieces out, using a toothpick or other small object as necessary.
- Place a tealight or small flashlight inside the jack o’lantern, replace the top, and enjoy the spooky glow!
When your jack o’lantern is done, you can roast the pumpkin seeds: Clean off all of the pulp and strings, and give the seeds a quick rinse. Toss with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (or garlic powder or cinnamon, depending on the flavor you want), and roast in a 425-degree oven for 15-30 minutes. Check them every few minutes and stir them periodically; when they’re light brown and crispy, they’re done!
Obviously, you’ll need to use your good judgment when it comes to letting the kids participate in pumpkin-carving. Little ones shouldn’t use knives or carvers; they might even be content to simply paint their pumpkins. Watch even older kids carefully, as it’s easy to poke a finger with a carver. And of course, be careful if you’re using candles!