Pumpkin Carving Made Easy

Published Date: September 29th, 2006
Category: Holiday Fun

by J GARDENER

As fall approaches, the leaves begin their annual change, the air grows crisp, and children’s thoughts turn to Halloween.

Most scholars date “All Hallow’s Eve” back to ancient Celtic traditions, when the people of Scotland and Ireland would darken their houses and dress up in ghoulish costumes, to scare away evil spirits. Thankfully, the annual fright-fest we celebrate today is all in fun.

One of the most enduring symbols of Halloween is the Jack O’ Lantern, a remnant of another ancient legend, in which a man named Jack was doomed by the devil to wander the earth alone. In the Irish tradition, Jack used a hollowed-out turnip with a burning ember inside to light his way.

When this tradition was brought to America in the 1840’s, the pumpkin became “Jack’s Lantern”. These days, a variety of plastic, pre-lit models are available for Halloween decorating. But some of us remember “the good old days” and even now, October finds parents and children in backyards or at kitchen tables, everywhere, carving scary faces into these orange giants.

By observing a few important safety tips, this can be a wonderful family project.

The most important thing of all is to make sure you’re with your children at all times, during the process. Kids take great joy in designing the “faces” of jack o’ lanterns, but the actual carving work should only be handled by adults.

nce the top of the pumpkin has been carved and removed, make sure to scoop out all of the “meat” inside, including the stringy membranes-this is all material which will rot in short order, if left inside an open pumpkin, attracting insects.

Carving is a much simpler process if you and your kids trace the outline of the final design right onto the skin of the pumpkin, using a marker. If your child is unsure what kind of face to use, templates for all sorts of designs can be found at websites like www.spookmaster.com .

The most commonly used tool for carving is a simple paring knife, because it’s sharp and easy to handle. For detailed instructions about proper carving techniques, check out www.pumpkincarving101.com .

Once your pumpkin is carved and ready for display, the next step is lighting it for Halloween. If you must use a candle, the safest is a votive candle, which can sit on the bottom, inside your jack o’ lantern. These candles burn longer than traditional upright candles, and there’s less danger of them tipping over. But no candle-lit pumpkin should ever be left unattended-a stray pet or a misstep can result in your masterpiece falling and the candle coming out, creating a fire hazard.

A string of white indoor/outdoor Christmas lights, a battery-powered light, or even glowsticks can provide safer lighting, with just as much spooky effect.

On the other hand, the safest jack o’lantern of all is the “daylight” model. By applying paints and markers right on the skin, pumpkins can be turned into frightening globes of terror, without any carving or lighting, at all.

Any way you choose to do it, you and your children can use this time to create family traditions-and some scary memories you’ll never forget.

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