If I had to pick a favourite time of year, I’m not sure if Halloween or Christmas would win. However, since Halloween is rapidly advancing, I’ll go with it for now.
I’ve always enjoyed the fun of dressing up, becoming someone or something else for a little while. The costume, make-up, wig, and whatever accoutrements are needed to create the look I’m trying to achieve. Now that my son is eight, it’s even more fun because my excitement has transferred to him and he’s keen to figure out just the right thing.
Another thing he’s getting more and more interested in is the one thing that I love most about Halloween ... the pumpkin. I spend a good amount of time and gas driving around this farming area looking for just the right pumpkin or two. I really have the best time carving intricate patterns into my pumpkins.
To do this, you have to first find your pattern. You need to have this first in order to know how big of a pumpkin you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than getting a pumpkin that hasn’t got enough real estate for the size of pattern you want to do. Then you need to actually go get your pumpkin. If you’re going for a smaller one for a first effort, be sure you don’t get pie pumpkins. These little guys are practically solid inside and you’ll spend a week just trying to get the inside cleaned out. Also, another good tip for pumpkin-purchasing...try to get one that’s fairly flat on the side you want to carve. If your pumpkin is too ridged, it will be hard to carve, but will also distort the pattern.
For a beginner, the best bet is to go to any Walmart-type store and buy one of those pumpkin carving kits that comes with instructions and some beginner patterns. These kits have all the essentials. First make sure your pumpkin sits up by itself. Carve out a lid and remove the innards. Use the scraper from the kit to scrape off as much of the internal flesh of the pumpkin as you can. On the side you want to carve into, try to keep it even thinner (say half an inch or so). I know this measurement is tough to gauge and the best I can say is that it should have a little give when pushed from the outside, but not too much. Don’t forget to save those seeds for roasting!
Tape your pattern to the pumpkin. If you need to, either cut slits or fold the paper (like pleats) so it’s as flat as possible against the pumpkin. The next tool ro use from your little collection is a small pointed thing. This is the poker and it is used to trace the lines of the pattern, poking holes through the outer skin of the pumpkin every few millimetres. These little holes will provide a guideline for the cutting. After you’ve poked holes in all the lines, remove what’s left of the pattern and set it aside for reference. Now pick up the little thing with the saw blade on it. Insert it into one of your holes and then simply “connect the dots”.
Follow along the pattern lines and keep sawing.
You will want to go quickly, but don’t. If you do, you might end up cutting somewhere that you shouldn’t. Just keep referring to your pattern as you go. Start in the middle and work your way out, doing small intricate things as close to the beginning as possible. These will be difficult to do later otherwise. If you do accidentally cut something you shouldn’t have, a small “repair” can be made using a needle or a toothpick to reattach the cut part. I prefer toothpicks because they are made of wood and therefore biodegradable, but also because no-one is likely to be hurt by it. If you need to, you can trim the inside flesh a little closer to the outer skin after you’ve finished carving, but be very careful as this would be the likeliest moment when you might cut or break something you don’t mean to.
Put a candle inside, the lid back on, and turn off the lights.
While several of these are quite do-able for a beginner, the ones here at the right are more advanced. These were among my first attempts at a carving technique that skims or shaves off the outer layer of the pumpkin's skin. The flesh inside has to be thick enough to sustain the pumpkin, but thin enough to allow light to shine through. It creates that "shadow" effect that's more visible on the face in the left of the picture.