Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pumpkin Carving - A Halloween Tradition

Well, it's that time of year again...fiery red and glittery golden leaves wafting to the ground, the air is crisp and we're starting to see scary ghosts and monsters on front lawns. What would Halloween be without carved pumpkins, large and small, to add that festive touch to our front steps and porches?

Driving through our rain-swept streets, I've seen carvings from the traditional Jack-o-lanterns to some of my favorite celebrities carved into these orange gourds! Pumpkin carving dates back centuries to Ireland and was reportedly brought to America in the 1800's. Regardless of how it came here, it's a part of the Halloween history of decorating that no trick or treating night would be complete without.

largest pumpkin
Spooky pumpkin patterns are a Halloween tradition.

When I was a kid, we just carved triangle eyes and a mouth and that was it. These days, carving is at a whole new level. I saw a pumpkin carved into Jimi Hendrix and one was a scene from Star Wars. Well, I found out there are stencils for cool pumpkin patterns. What makes it even better is that you can download these cool pumpkin templates for free! Pumpkin Masters has some free fun patterns that include easy to follow instructions. Or just search "free pumpkin carving templates" in your browser's search box and you'll find plenty of choices.

Pick a Perfect Pumpkin

Remember, you can buy pumpkins at your local grocery, farmer's market or go to a "pick your own" pumpkin patch. The Farmer's Almanac gives some helpful pointers for picking the best pumpkin for carving:

pumpkin seed recipe
Buy locally grown, buy small or get the
biggest pumpkin they have!
  • Pick a pumpkin with a smooth surface. These tend to look better when carved. However, a few small dents or nicks might enhance your design.
  • Avoid bruised pumpkins as they will decay more quickly.
  • Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve as they are softer.
  • The biggest pumpkin is not always the best pumpkin. Consider your design. Smaller designs need smaller pumpkins, etc.
  • The pumpkin should be flatter on the bottom so it will not roll while carving or holding a candle or light.

 How to Carve

WikiHow has great step-by-step instructions for carving your pumpkin up just right to make a scary Jack-o-lantern or a fun smiling face pumpkin. Basically, you want to make sure the pumpkin is clean and dry before you get started. Then:
  • Carve off the pumpkin top. If your pumpkin doesn't have a pretty flat bottom, carve off a little to make it sit upright and steady.
  • Scoop out the insides, and don't forget to save the seeds. You'll use them later in a great pumpkin seed recipe.
  • Tape your spooky pumpkin stencils to your pumpkins and use a pumpkin carving tool to trace the image onto your pumpkins. Some people are creative and like to draw the picture free hand. 
  • You can purchase a pumpkin carving tool kit for carving your design. These work well, especially if you are carving with your children. Sharp, serrated edged knives can be dangerous when carving any fruit, so put safety first!
  • If you choose to use real candles to light your Jack-o-lanterns, make sure they are not near anything flammable. Battery operated tea lights are a great and safe way to light up your new cool pumpkin carvings.
Pumpkin Seeds

Toasting pumpkin seeds is easy. All you need are the seeds, washed and dried, some olive or vegetable oil and seasoning. Salt and pepper will do, or you can add just about anything from cinnamon to garlic, to make pumpkin seeds recipe unique. There are many ways to cook pumpkin seeds, just use your imagination. They can be seasoned and tossed into a salad, used to decorate pumpkin muffins or cupcakes or even added to your own homemade trail mix. Pumpkin seeds are not only a fun snack but they also have some great nutritional value. Here are a few facts about pumpkin seeds:
  • Pumpkin seeds are also called pepitas.
  • They are rather high in calories, 1/4 cup = 186 calories.
  • They are one of the most healthy seeds available. 
  • Although they are high in calories and most of their calories come from fat, they are high in the heart-health polyunsaturated-fat.
So don't be afraid to eat them, they make a much healthier snack than a candy bar. Ooooohhh did someone say CANDY?????

pumpkin carving tool
Pumpkin display at Indian Walk market in Buckingham, PA


Caroline Carr
Contributing Writer

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