With less than a week to go until Halloween, the countdown is on! In our house, the costumes are ready, the candy is piled high in a big bowl (although it seems to go down a little bit each time I walk by) and our pumpkins are anxiously awaiting their transformations from golden gourds to spooky Jack O’Lanterns.
This year, we don’t have any pumpkins from our garden - we grew ornamental gourds instead - but we did pick up a selection from The Dill Farm last weekend when we were in Windsor. We have a ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ pumpkin that looks as if it was plucked straight from a fairytale with its glowing reddish-orange colour and flattened shape. We also have some typical Jack O-Lantern style pumpkins, but I tend to look for those with an upright oval form, rather than the standard squat and round shape - just personal preference.
If you plan on applying a pattern to your pumpkin (Gene Simmons? Angry Birds?), you will want to look for one that has smooth skin and a relatively flat surface. I also make sure that our chosen pumpkins have flat bottoms so that they will be wobble-free when they’re parked on our porch.
We typically carve our pumpkins only a day or two before halloween, lest they begin to rot before the big day. Before we put knife to pumpkin, however, I gather up all the materials and tools that we will need including several sheets of newspaper to protect the carving surface, an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and a narrow serrated knife for easy cutting. My neighbour is much more artistic than I am and she uses specialized carving saws, melon ballers, drills and other fine tools to craft an assortment of finely detailed images on her pumpkins.
I start the process by removing the top lid, but many serious carvers opt to put the opening at the bottom of the pumpkin so that the top stays intact and results in a more attractive creation. Next comes the de-gooping where we scoop all the insides into big bowls, plucking the seeds from the mess and dropping them into a colander. After a quick rinse and dry, we drizzle the seeds with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and bake them for about 30 minutes on 325 F, stirring often.
As the house fills with the aroma of roasting pumpkin seeds, we get to work carving the Jack O’Lanterns. To make carving easier - especially for tricky designs - I use my handy ice cream scoop to thin the inner wall of the pumpkin. When I’m ready to start carving, I select a double serrated knife, cutting with an up and down motion. This reduces the need to force the knife and will also allow you to carve more detailed designs.
With so many small children visiting our porch on Halloween night, I’ve abandoned candles and instead light up our pumpkins with battery operated tea lights. You can also use a coiled length of Christmas lights or a funky flashing strobe light for a unique effect.
If you need a bit of Jack O’Lantern inspiration, google ‘pumpkin patterns’ on your computer and you’ll soon have thousands of ideas to choose from! Happy Halloween!
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award). For more info, visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.