A carved Jack-o-Lantern is the most recognizable sign of Halloween, and part of the family fun of this spooky holiday is to make a tradition out of carving your own.
Don't be surprised if this year you see lots of Detroit Tiger-themed pumpkins, and maybe the Lions, too. But the most popular designs will still be ghoulish faces or cartoon characters, according to Doug St. Souver, culinary instructor and professional fruit/vegetable carver. He carves about 100 pumpkins each season for clients and corporations - and his own front porch.
The most important aspect of having a well-presented carved pumpkin for Halloween is not to carve it too early. "A carved pumpkin will last for about a week to 10 days, depending on the weather," said St. Souver. "If you use a ‘skin relief and layer' technique, that only takes the outer skin off, then you can carve it now, but don't break into the pumpkin until you want it out for display about a week before Halloween. Just carving the outer skin will slow down the bacterial growth, which is what causes the pumpkin to decompose."
To best preserve a pumpkin that has been carved, St. Souver suggests bringing it in at night and covering it with wet towels, then tying it in a garbage bag and putting it in the refrigerator. "It's important for pumpkins to keep a consistent temperature," he said.
Pumpkin-carvers can choose a traditional Jack-o-Lantern design, or opt for more creative, personalized carvings. Before buying your pumpkins, decide what designs you will be carving into them so you'll at least have a mental idea of the shapes and sizes of pumpkins you'll need - tall or narrow, or more rounded, depending on your ideas.
Select pumpkins that are uniformly orange and have no bruises, cuts or nicks. If you will be using a stencil to carve your pumpkin, select one that is large enough and as close to the same shape as the pattern you're going to carve. It should be as smooth as possible, and free of scratches, dents or gouges.
When you select your pumpkin, don't carry it by its stem because it may break. Once you get it home, gather your supplies.
For a traditional Jack-o-Lantern carving, you'll need newspapers, a small, sharp knife, and an ice cream scoop with a lever for easy seeds/membrane removal and a large bowl to put them in.
For simple Jack-o-Lantern designs, draw an outline of a face on a plain sheet of white paper, using simple bold features. Tape the paper to the pumpkin where you want the face to be. Score the design onto the pumpkin by punching through the paper into the pumpkin with a large nail or pin. Carefully cut out the design following the holes that were "punched" with your plastic knife. When you are finished cutting, simply push out the pieces to view the results.
Designs that are more complex will require the use of a template from one of the many pumpkin carving websites now available, including www.pumpkincarving101.com, www.pumpkin-carving.com, among many others. St. Souver uses duct tape to hold the square transparency paper onto the round surface of the pumpkin. He does the intricate carving with a very small knife, keeping the knife at an angle to remove the skin, when doing "relief" work on the pumpkin. After finishing the exterior carving of the pumpkin, he cleans the "innards" out, saving the pumpkin seeds for a tasty autumn treat.
St. Souver uses the light in a pumpkin to add more spookiness or character to the design. His motto is safety first, using lights with the lowest heat, so his choice is usually battery-operated halogen lights, using four or six AA batteries, or LED lighting, if using electricity.
He plans to put his carved pumpkins out at home on the Monday before Halloween, exactly a week ahead of the holiday. Because carved pumpkins are so perishable, he'll be doing most of his pumpkin orders in a short window of time. "I'll be carving pumpkins into the wee hours of the morning," he said.
Pumpkin seeds a delicious fall treat
If you're carving out a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween, make sure to keep the pumpkin seeds for a delicious, nutritious fall snack. In addition to their tasty crunch, pumpkin seeds are packed with protein, fiber, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous, as well as the amino acids arginine and glutamic acid. They also contain some calcium, potassium, zinc, selenium, folate, and niacin. Pumpkin seeds contain linolenic acid, which may help to prevent hardening of the arteries.
Here are some delicious ways to enjoy this fall treat.
1½ c. raw pumpkin seeds
2 t. butter, melted
1 pinch salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally.
Sweet and Spicy Seeds
2 egg whites
½ c. sugar
1 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
2 c. fresh pumpkin seeds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites, sugar, cayenne, cinnamon and salt. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss to coat. Spread the seeds in a single layer across the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir them up and pop them back into the oven until golden in color, about 5 minutes more. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.
Food Network Rachel Ray
Gourmet Roasted Seeds
1½ c. pumpkin seeds
2 t. melted butter or oil
Salt to taste
(Optional seasoning to taste: garlic powder or garlic salt, seasoning salt, black pepper, salt-free seasoning blend, such as Mrs. Dash brand, cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, Cajun seasoning blend, chili powder, Mexican-style chili lime seasoning, Italian seasoning or other herbs, grated hard cheese such as Parmesan) Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the melted butter or oil and seasonings of your choice. Spread pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.
Flavor combinations to try:
• Italian-style pumpkin seeds - Italian seasoning blend, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper.
• Pumpkin pie pumpkin seeds - cinnamon, ground ginger and pinch of nutmeg, butter.
• Greek style - lemon pepper seasoning blend, oregano, salt, olive oil.
• Buffalo wings pumpkin seeds - butter, Tabasco sauce, salt.Pumpkin carving tools
• Ice cream scoop with handle lever
• Very small, sharp knife
• Large bowl for scraping out the
insides of the pumpkin
• Alot of patience
Source: Doug St. Souver
Why is a carved pumpkin called a Jack-o-Lantern?
The British can claim ownership of the original use of the phrase "jack-o'-lantern." In the 17th century, it referred to a night watchman, a man who literally carried a lantern. But it was also a nickname for strange, flickering lights seen at night over wetlands, or peat bogs, and mistaken to be fairies or ghosts. This natural phenomenon is also called ignis fatuus, which means "fool's fire," and will o' the wisp. Eventually what was called a "turnip lantern" became known as a jack-o'-lantern. Young boys used these hollowed-out and lit-up gourds to spook people. Irish immigrants brought the jack-o'-lantern custom to North America, which is where pumpkins were first used to make the Halloween decorations.