How To on Tuesday: Carve your own Jack-o-Lantern

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We had the most fun in our house last night! As well as cooking up a big supper of veggie lasagne, and making sloe brandy and sloe vodka with the left over berries we foraged, we spent the evening carving our pumpkin!

I’m afraid I’ve never been able to resist the lure of an ornamental vegetable…I just love things with two uses….and when we saw a table full of large handsome pumpkins at the market last week I just had to get one! Adam was a little less convinced, as he’d never carved one before, and had never really cooked with one. But after all the fun of carving ours last night, it’s his new favourite thing….and he hasn’t even tasted the stuff I’m making with the flesh yet!

Now the principals of carving a pumpkin are pretty simple, but it is a little time consuming and laborious in parts. I had presumed that everyone had at some point carved a pumpkin, but with Adam as proof that’s not the case, I thought I’d give you all some pointers in case you’ve not experienced this joy before either!

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be CAREFUL whilst doing this! Sharp knives are easier to use and less likely to cause an accident, but they are still sharp, so keep your fingers safe! Make sure you work in a well lit room too!

What you will need:

  • A pumpkin, any size you like (although the smaller it is, the more faffy it’ll be)
  • A very sharp butcher’s knife (or the largest, sharpest knife you have)
  • A very sharp paring knife (or the smallest, narrowest knife you have)
  • A pencil
  • A permanent marker
  • Paper for sketching
  • A large spoon, and kitchen tongs if you have them
  • A cutting mat or chopping board
  • Three large bowls (or two bowls and your composter)
  • A lamp
  • A tea light

How to make it:

1. Sketch some ideas out on paper first of all….maybe look online for inspiration

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2. Draw a circle around the stalk of your pumpkin, about half way between the stalk and the outer edge as you look down on it (this is the bit that will become the ‘lid’)

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3. With your smaller sharp knife, carefully cut around the line you drew, keeping the knife pointed inwards (towards the stalk) at a 45 degree angle….this is so that your lid will sit back into place and not just fall in!

4. Remove your lid and place to the side for now, then scoop out all the seeds and stringy bits from inside your pumpkin….the spoon is best to use in the main but tongs are handy to grab some of the stringy bits.

5. Pop the seeds into one bowl (we are going to save ours to use later) and the other gubbins into a second bowl (or your composter).

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6. Now, very carefully, using the larger knife, start to carve out some of the flesh from inside the pumpkin. Keep in mind which side you will use as the front, as you’ll need to keep it a little thicker there to make it easier to carve your design. We found that making a few vertical and horizontal cuts into the flesh helped us to then scoop out as much flesh as possible. Pop the flesh into the third bowl to use later.

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7. Now comes the fun bit! Pencil your design onto the face of your pumpkin.

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8. Once you’re happy with it, use the permanent marker to go over the pencil lines to make the design easier to follow. Because the skin of the pumpkin is so waxy and shiny, it’s unlikely that the pen will actually stay on, so be careful it doesn’t transfer onto your hands and clothes.

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9. Now, using the smaller knife, begin to trace around the lines. You don’t need to go all the way through the flesh at this stage, just carve your outline neatly to start.

10. Then, using the larger knife if you prefer, follow the cuts you’ve made around the design, but this time ensure the knife goes all the way through into the carved core of your pumpkin. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to pull out the shapes you’ve carved and add these to your bowl of flesh.

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11. You may need to tidy up the inner holes that you’ve carved, depending on how straight the cuts are….you can test how it will look by holding your pumpkin up to the lamp.

12. Once you’re happy with your carving, wipe off any remains of the pen marks and any gooey bits of the flesh on the skin.

13. Then place your tealight inside, light it carefully, and place on the lid.

14. Switch off the lights to admire your work!

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Keep an eye on your Jack-o-Lantern once it’s lit…..depending on its size the tealight may heat up the inside of the lid and can even start to burn it, so keep checking it and dampen it if needs be. You can always use a battery powered tea light for safety, although beware that some of these can also heat up a little too.

Now before I sign off and wish you happy carving, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite pumpkin carving ideas that I found online whilst getting inspiration for ours…..maybe next year we’ll try something a little more adventurous!…..

Happy Halloween!

Ems x

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