SparkNotes Blog

Autumn Activity Series: Carve a Pumpkin

We’ve been feeling a little nostalgic recently for our Summer Activity Series (SAS) posts, so we decided to bundle the idea up in a scarf, pump it full of hot apple cider, and (continuing with our geometry pun), do an autumn version (AAS).

Fall just wouldn’t be fall without that lovable orange gourd we call the great pumpkin. And what better way to celebrate something than to carve it up? AAS presents a primer on:

Carving a Pumpkin

Step 1: We are taking a design-driven approach, so you will pick your design first and your pumpkin second. Do you want something funny or scary? Traditional or goofy? Or maybe you don’t want a face at all, but a design or a blank canvas to show your allegiances. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll want to stay away from overly complicated designs with lots of cut-outs and thin lines.

Step 2: Find the perfect fruit (yes, botanically speaking, a pumpkin has seeds and so is a fruit). If you want to really do it right, you will spend an afternoon hunting through an actual pumpkin patch, where you can liberate your gourd from the vine yourself.

Your design will dictate the most appropriate shape for your pumpkin. If you’re planning to carve a jack-o’-lantern, you might want a uniformly round pumpkin. A face may call for an oblong pumpkin with a flat side. Witches and monsters beg for a knobby or warty pumpkin. The bigger the pumpkin, the more area you have to carve from.

Step 3: Prep your pumpkin (try saying that ten times fast in a row). Wash it, scraping any dirt off with a kitchen brush, and dry thoroughly. Unless you’ve always wanted nine fingers, we don’t recommend wielding big, sharp knives while precariously balancing a pumpkin in your lap. So  you’ll want to find a table of some sort. Outside is best for clean-up. If you’re inside, make sure to cover the table and surrounding area with plastic or newspaper (unless you want your mom screaming at you about the ground-in pumpkin guts on her rug). Use a towel wrapped in a donut shape to balance the pumpkin if it’s wobbly.

Step 4: Perform a pumpkin lobotomy. Using a large knife or small saw, carefully cut around the stem at the top of the pumpkin in a circle or hexagon. The skin here is tough and the flesh thick, so you may have to put some elbow grease into it. Make your hole big enough so that you can fit your hand or a big spoon inside.

Step 5: Disembowel your pumpkin. Scrape the seeds and sinewy goop away from the hard flesh of the inside of the pumpkin with a metal spoon or ice cream scooper. You can also scrape the flesh on the area where you’ll be carving to make it thinner and easier to cut through. The pulp of carving pumpkins isn’t usually as tasty as the canned variety, but the seeds are edible, so save them for toasting.

Step 6: We usually go freestyle, but if your design is complicated, you can use a stencil. Use a dry-erase marker or pencil to draw on the surface of the pumpkin, or a nail to poke holes along the lines where you’ll cut. Remember that all the pieces have to be connected.

Step 7: Carve. Pumpkin carving kits are handy, especially if you don’t want to dull your mom’s prized Cutco set, but a few well-picked kitchen knives or small saws will also do the trick (or treat… hahaha. Ah.). We’ve found rather than “cutting” the pumpkin, it often works best to insert the knife, pull it out a bit, and insert again. If you accidentally cut through a piece that’s supposed to be connected (like an eyeball or something), don’t worry. You can use toothpicks to stick it back in.

Step 8: Light it up. Put a small candle (tealights work well) in your pumpkin, light, place top on, back away and admire. (Note: this works best at night. Duh.)

Step 9: Watch trick-or-treaters‘ reactions to your pumpkin as they approach your house on Halloween. Only give candy to the ones who oooh and ahhh.

Step 10: Watch your pumpkin rot or, more fun, smash it. C’est la vie, pumpkin. (Note: Only smash your own pumpkins; smashing other people’s pumpkins is just downright mean.)

Got any good ideas for pumpkin designs? Let us know. We’re hosting a pumpkin carving party and looking to take home the trophy this year.