Pumpkin Carving Made Easy

New tools make pumpkin carving easier than ever before.

I remember, as a child, watching my mother carve our Halloween pumpkin. It was a struggle to cut out the small triangular features with an unwieldy kitchen knife. We didn’t always manage to get the teeth going in the right direction, and some of these jack-o’-lanterns were decidedly more successful than others.

Thankfully, there are now tool kits on the market created especially for carving pumpkins. With these tools to the rescue, carving pumpkins is easier than ever before and, therefore, the designs can be as amusing or enchanting as you wish to make them. You can mix and match our pattern shapes or create some of your own — cookie cutters and coloring books are good sources for inspiration.

Although any actual cutting should be left for the adults, there are plenty of opportunities for children of all ages to participate. Going to the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkin is a great beginning.

1. Funny Face
For this Funny Face pumpkin cut two ear shapes (one from each side); then when you have completed the rest of the carving, put the tab inserts into the cutout holes and secure with straight pins. A little experience and a steady hand are required for the areas around the eyes. If in doubt, eliminate the teardrop shape directly under the eye to avoid carving the thinner strips. Pumpkins can be scooped out from the top or the bottom. Cut a lid or a bottom candle opening as desired.

2. Galaxy of Stars
Let the stars shine through, and a crescent moon as well, in this Galaxy of Stars design. Cut as many stars as fit your pumpkin and place the carved lantern on the doorstep or in a window to welcome trick-or-treaters.

3. Autumn Leaves
Falling leaves are the inspiration for this Autumn Leaves design. By scattering maple- and elm leaf-shaped patterns at angles, the result is a windblown look that is appropriate for the season.

4. Going Batty
Going Batty describes the cutout designs circling all around this carved creation. Two different sizes fly over the surface. As with Autumn Leaves and Galaxy of Stars, this pumpkin looks equally enchanting from all sides. When not on display, store your carved pumpkin in a refrigerator with plastic wrap covering all the carved areas.

Pumpkin-carving tools (available online at www.yankeehalloween.com
Flat-edged ice-cream scoop or scraper scoop
Paring knife
Masking tape
Ballpoint pen
Pushpins, corsage pins, or straight pins
Petroleum jelly
Tracing paper or tissue paper

What to Do
1. Choose a pumpkin that is an appropriate size and shape for the design you wish to carve. Tall pumpkins may lend themselves better to faces. For designs with lots of cutouts, look for large, round pumpkins with smooth surfaces. Look for a pumpkin with a flat bottom that will sit upright.

2. Wipe the pumpkin clean with a soft damp cloth and dry.

3. Decide which patterns you want to use, and trace the design — actual size or enlarged or reduced on a photocopier — onto tracing paper.

4. For a lid: Draw a 6-sided lid with a V-shaped notch at the back. This notch will serve as a guide to replace the lid. For a bottom: Draw an opening on the bottom of your pumpkin if you want to sit it over a candle. Be sure to draw the opening large enough so that it will be easy to reach inside and scoop out the contents when cut.

5. Only grownups should do the actual cutting. To do so, cut along the drawn lines for the lid or bottom opening with a sharp paring knife. Keep your non-carving hand away from the blade at all times. If cutting a lid, angle the blade toward the center of the pumpkin to create a ledge that supports the lid. If cutting a bottom, cut straight into the pumpkin.

6. Scoop out the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin — a good step for kids. Use a large spoon or ice-cream scoop or the plastic scraper scoop that is made for this purpose.

7. Scrape the inner pulp away from the area of the pumpkin that you plan to carve until the pumpkin wall is approximately 1 inch thick. To check the thickness, insert a straight pin into the wall.

8. Tape the patterns to the pumpkin: It may be necessary to cut slashes in the edges of the paper for the patterns to fit smoothly in place.

9. To transfer the patterns to the pumpkin, use a pushpin, corsage pin or the tip of the poker tool to poke holes through the paper and into the pumpkin along the design lines about 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch apart. Make sure that all of the lines have been transferred. Remove paper, and use a pen or dull-point pencil to connect the dots. Save the paper patterns to refer to while carving.

10. Cradle the pumpkin in your lap, and keep the pumpkin saw or small paring knife at a 90-degree angle to the pumpkin while carving. Carve from dot to dot to cut out the pattern shapes; if using the saw, don’t try to slice with it, but saw with a gentle up-and-down motion, not back and forth. It is definitely easier to create smaller and rounded shapes with the saw that is made for this purpose. If an older child wants to help, the saw is much safer than a knife but still requires adult supervision. Do not exert too much pressure or the tools might break. Push the cut pieces into the pumpkin with your fingers. If a large piece becomes wedged, cut it into smaller pieces.

11. If you happen to cut through a pumpkin section by mistake, reattach the pieces with straight pins or toothpicks.

12. Rub all cut pumpkin edges with petroleum jelly to keep it fresh longer.

13. Insert a short column candle, votive or battery-operated light in the pumpkin. If the candle is not in a holder, form a holder from aluminum foil and secure the candle with a few drops of melted wax.

14. If candle smoke blackens the lid, cut a chimney hole in the lid top to vent the smoke and heat and preserve your design.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest