Pumpkin carving has a deep-rooted history in American culture. As a child, my family always used the butcher knife/three-triangles-and-a-mouth method. Today, there are specialized carving tools available from a range of sources. Martha Stewart, a lover of all things Halloween, has brought pumpkin carving to a new level, offering creative designs and techniques. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad, Butch, looks for the strangest pumpkins available and stacks them in towering sculptures before Halloween, and then plants rows and rows of the leftover seeds in his garden after the holiday.
A few Halloweens ago, Maggie’s grandmother, Meme, gave her a simple pumpkin carving kit, full of all the tools and how-to needed to create a jack-o’-lantern. The kit, which has been put to good use, included a scraper scoop, a couple of saws, and other carving accessories. This year, we got the complete Grampa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set for even more detailed carving. However, the butcher knife of my childhood will still render a perfect pumpkin as well; the key is finding the perfect canvas.
Look for a pumpkin with smooth, relatively unblemished skin and no soft spots. Before buying, make sure to sit the pumpkin on a flat surface to see if it is stable. We bought our carving pumpkin from a local farmers’ market, aptly named Jack-O-Lantern Farm, but nearby pumpkin patches are also a great resource.
First, you will need to cut a hole in the pumpkin, either in the top or bottom, depending on how you plan to light the pumpkin’s design. Draw a guide, and then cut the hole using the saw provided in your carving kit or a serrated kitchen knife.
Hollow out the pumpkin using your hands and a scraper scoop or spoon. Be sure to clean out all the seeds, strings, and pulp, especially around the area of the pumpkin that will be carved. Depending upon the pattern you choose, you may opt to thin the pumpkin’s inner wall in the spot where you will place your design.
Next, attach and transfer your carving pattern. We used the Paisley stencil, which is available for download from our Resources page. Resize the pattern to fit your pumpkin, and tape it to the smoothest spot. We scaled the Paisley stencil to 75% then deconstructed it to create our own pattern. Use a push pin, needle tool, or nail to poke holes that trace the line of the pattern, piercing the pumpkin flesh through the stencil.
Remove the pattern template. Holding the carving saw like a pencil, saw along the dotted pattern. Push carved bits through each opening with your finger. Add additional carved details as desired.
To light your carved pumpkin, we recommend using electric string lights or battery-operated candles as safe alternatives to traditional candles. You can carve the hole in the bottom or side of the pumpkin if you plan on using electric lights, so that you can hide the cord.
To help preserve your jack-o’-lantern, rub a little petroleum jelly on the carved edges and wrap the entire pumpkin in plastic wrap and refrigerate when not in use.