Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spooky Pumpkins 2010!

Happy Pumpkin Carving Day! It’s getting closer to Halloween and it's the perfect time to get the Jack-o-lanterns ready.  If you want to learn how make your own very cool carved pumpkins, keep reading! My husband Matt is the resident pumpkin expert and is featured here.

It all starts at the farm. We get our pumpkins at the Beaulieu’s Farm stand on Alden Road in Fairhaven, MA. These are excellent pumpkins and happen to be grown by my mom’s cousin. He also sells all-natural field-raised beef if anyone is looking for some healthy burgers. Matt has a good eye for a pumpkin that’s just right for carving and there are plenty of good ones still left to choose from.

After much deliberation, Matt decided on two pumpkin patterns from the Zombie Pumpkins web site: Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett from Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim!! Spooky!!  For a very reasonable price, the patterns can be downloaded and printed. Worth it for the awesome pumpkin effects. TIP: Most of these patterns are about the size of a piece of computer paper, so you need to choose a pumpkin with a large enough surface for the pattern to work. A piece of paper should fit on the carving area without being too close to the top and bottom of the pumpkin.

First, we must clean out the pumpkin guts, an important job which I help with. Matt cuts off the top and scoops out the pulp. I clean off the step top then rinse and save all the seeds which I’ll roast for snacks--more on that later. My job is now done.

Matt takes over from here. First, make sure the outside of the pumpkin is clean and dry. The pattern is taped to the best side of the pumpkin. Matt likes a flatter side since the pattern lays better on that. 

Next, using an awl (which you can get at the hardware store if you don’t have really old tools in your basement like we do), punch holes through the paper into the pumpkin skin every 1/4 inch or so on the lines of the pattern. Stay on the lines as much as possible!

Now, using your favorite carving tools, begin sawing out the pieces in a connect-the-dots fashion. Matt uses a pretty standard pumpkin carving tool set you can get at most stores and sometimes he uses a large Ex-acto knife for really intricate work. Try to get the edges of the cuts as smooth as possible.

FYI- The inside of the pumpkin will probably get wet and continue to have pumpkin juice gather in the bottom, so dump it occasionally.

When the pumpkins are finished, they look great, but we have to wait until dark for the full effect! We use 2 or 3 basic white tea lights for our pumpkins, nothing fancy.


And now....presenting our SPOOKY JACK-O-LANTERNS of 2010!!!

On a side note, I love pumpkin seeds! Here’s what I did while Matt was carving: I found a great pumpkin seed recipe on line. I made one batch with just salt, the other I sprinkled with cinnamon and Southwestern-style seasoning. Yum! It's easy and makes a great snack for while you’re admiring your pumpkins. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Pumpkin Time!

Happy Halloween everyone! It's time to start thinking about pumpkin carving. My husband is the carver in our house, and right now we have a great big pumpkin from our local farm stand on the counter waiting to meet its fate.

Want to create some pumpkin magic? Here's how:

Pumpkin Stencil Patterns:
You can free-hand carve a pumpkin old-school style, or you can try using a carving stencil.  They're a little more advanced, but the results are amazing. There are easier and more difficult patterns to try. You can find patterns on line for free, or pay a few dollars for one you can download and print. It is well worth the price when it's just the right design. They are well planned and tested to work and look amazing.

The links below have some free patterns as well as stencils you can buy. Most of these are very sophisticated, and a few might be scary for little kids, so beware!
Zombie Pumpkins
Pumpkin Lady
Spook Master

You can even take a pumpkin quiz to get a free pattern based on your answers from Better Homes & Gardens:
Pumpkin Quiz

Some patterns kids would love can be found here:
Nick, Jr. Patterns
Hershey's Patterns
Kreatures for Kids

Pumpkin Carving Tools:
You do need the right tools to carve a pumpkin really well, especially one with more complicated shapes. You can buy kits or use some household or sculpting tools you can find at craft stores or hardware stores. The links below will get you started:
Williams-Sonoma Kit
Pumpkin Masters Kit
Martha Stuart Kit
This Old House Pumpkin Carving Tool Tips

So what do you do now that you have a stencil & your tools? These sites give you the info you need to carve a pumpkin from a stencil.
Pumpkin How-To Steps
Backyard Gardener Pumpkin Tips
Instructable's Neat-and-East Pumpkin Carving

Light that Pumpkin!:
Finally, lighting! A jack-o'-lantern needs its glow, and today you can buy lots of different kind of lights to give your pumpkin special effects. We still use a good old candle, but it would be fun to try something different. Check out the links below for lighting ideas and important safety tips.
Masterpiece Pumpkins on Lighting
Halloween On-Line Lighting Tips
Halloween 101 Lighting Tips
Pumpkin Masters Lighting Kits

Safety & Pumpkins for Kids:
Speaking of safety, pumpkin carving is not a kid's craft. Even simple carving requires the use of very sharp tools and the pumpkin surface is uneven and slippery. Please use caution!

If you want the kids involved in pumpkin decoration, I recommend a fun alternative of pumpkin painting. Even the youngest kids can do this type of decorating. You can draw a face or design in permanent marker or paint free-hand designs. Make sure your pumpkin is clean and dry and use acrylic paint. You can also glue things to your pumpkin, like yarn for hair or glitter. Just go to your local craft store and use your imagination for things that could bring your pumpkin to life.

Fun Pumpkin Events:
Okay, so maybe you want to get in the Halloween spirit but pumpkin carving is not your thing. There are events going on all over the U.S. Get your spooky fix and check out the art of pumpkin carving at events like these:
Roger Williams Park Zoo Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular  (Providence, RI)
Manchester Vermont Pumpkin Carving Festival
Mashpee Massachusetts 1st Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest
Keene New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival

In the meantime, I'm off to assist in the pumpkin carving clean up! I'll post Matt's masterpiece when it's complete... Happy Halloween, all!