How To: Carve a pumpkin

October 19, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

A dozen years of pumpkin massacre parties and it's scary how skilled Jeanne Daniel-Hester is with a handful of knives and a squash.

This would have been the 13th year that Hester and her family have hosted a pumpkin-carving party, but other commitments canceled the event. Hester, however, shared her expertise at dusk one recent evening, so that everyone can do up a crafty jack-o-lantern.

I promised to bring the pumpkins. When I got to the grocery, there were only two left, each with a flat back. Two pumpkins with flat heads, I thought, are better than trying to do a pumpkin-carving story with no pumpkins. I shelled out the newspaper's $5 and carted them to the Hester household.

When Hester looked at her choices, she didn't shriek as I had expected, but instead started to turn one of the lopsided pumpkins around and contemplate.


"Picking a pumpkin is like picking a Christmas tree," she said. "Some people want a little Christmas tree, some want a great big Christmas tree, some people want a Charlie Brown Christmas tree."

My pumpkin was definitely of the Charlie-Brown variety.

"Usually the pumpkin tells you what it wants to be," she said.

As she contemplated a design, she passed around pictures from parties long past. There was a pumpkin made to look like Cinderella's carriage, a carousel pumpkin with its top and bottom separated by carrots, pumpkins with gourd eyes and, of course, the puking pumpkin.

The lore is that her son, Dylan, invented the first puking pumpkin. It looks much like an ordinary pumpkin face, and then the slimy string and fleshy parts are placed so that they look as if the pumpkin has spewed up its own guts. Yum. Over the years, Hester said, kids have added other objects to enhance the gross effect.

The basics

But, we're getting beyond the basics. Hester shared a few basics:

* Buy the kit. The tools inside are handy for carving. Hester said designs that used to take her hours can be done in a few minutes. The stencils are not allowed at her pumpkin massacre parties, but they do make beautiful pumpkins and can be useful for children who want to do something intricate.

Hester said small children can use the tools safely with supervision.

"We haven't lost a finger yet," she said, laughing, - although at one pumpkin massacre party, she handed out fake bloody fingers for the kids to give to their folks.

* Cut out the top or back of the pumpkin. If you cut out the top make a notch in it, so it will fit back easily into the top. Cutting out the back makes it easier to place a candle inside.

* Use a sturdy, large spoon to scoop out the strings, seeds and rind. Scrape the front well, so that the rind will be thin; this makes it easier to carve.

* To make the pumpkin last longer, mix some Fruit Fresh preservative with water and let it sit in the pumpkin overnight.

* Draw a design on the pumpkin with a marker. If you've drawn a design on paper, tape it on the pumpkin and then use an ice pick, or other sharp object, to poke holes along the lines and then remove the paper. This will create a carving guide.

* Use a knife or a carving tool to cut along the lines or marker. If you make a mistake and a piece of pumpkin that shouldn't fall out, does, then use a toothpick to reattach it.

* Put a tealight candle on the inside of the pumpkin.

* Don't limit your creativity to carving. Add objects with a hot glue gun. Carve a gourd or a cushaw instead of a pumpkin. One year, a pumpkin-massacre party-goer recreated a vegetable head like the one in Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" video.

If you find these tips too basic, then check out

Jeanne Daniel-Hester's pumpkin seed recipe

Pumpkin seeds



Garlic powder

Worcestershire sauce

Season salt

Soak the seeds overnight in salt water. Drain and pick out the pumpkin pieces. Let the seeds dry on newspaper or paper bags. Put seeds on a cookie sheet. Mix butter, seasonings and pour on top of the seeds. Put in an oven heated to 250 degrees and roast for an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes.

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