How to Carve a Pumpkin

It’s pumpkin season, and Halloween is right around the corner. If you’re planning a carve up a Jack-o-lantern this year, we’ve got some tips to make this year’s carving easy, fun, and even less wasteful! Carving a pumpkin is pretty simple, but when you’ve splurged on an organic gourd, you want to make sure you’re carving it the right way.

Pumpkin Carving Basics

Before you can carve a face in that pumpkin, you’ve got to scoop out the innards and create a cavity where you can nestle your candle. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing a candle that’s safe and healthy to burn, as well! To open up your pumpkin, use a knife to cut an opening around the stem that’s large enough for you to comfortably fit your hand. Point your knife downward at a slight angle, and saw around in a circle. Cutting at an angle means you can use the cut-off piece as a lid to cap your pumpkin once it’s carved.

Once you’re in, you’ll want to scoop out the seeds and stringy bits from inside the pumpkin. Separate the seeds from the strings and set them both aside – I’ve got a couple of tips on how to cook with both of these, so you’re not wasting a scrap of your organic pumpkin!

Now that your pumpkin is all cleaned, it’s time to get your design together. Here are a few tips to make designing and carving your pumpkin easier:

  • Choose the right knives. For cutting into the top of your pumpkin, a large paring knife will do the trick, but for carving your design you might want more precision. You can buy knives just for pumpkin carving, or choose a small, serrated blade to do more precision work.
  • Remember that you’re actually cutting through this sucker, so designing for pumpkin carving is different from drawing on paper. That means you need to think about your design as if you’re cutting out a stencil. If you have a ghost design, for example, you can’t cut all the way around the ghost, unless all you’re going for is a silhouette. If you’re not sure, try cutting your design out of paper first with an Exacto knife. You’ll be glad you did!
  • Avoid unsightlly pencil and pen marks. Rather than drawing your design on your pumpkin, which can leave marks behind after you cut, draw or print your design onto paper, then use a needle to poke along the areas where you’re planning to carve. You’re basically making dotted guidelines to cut along later.
  • Make it last. I’ve seen folks suggest rubbing the cut parts of your pumpkin with Vaseline to keep it from wrinkling after you cut it, but Vaseline is a petroleum product. Instead of a synthetic, rub your pumpkin with olive oil to preserve moisture and keep it from wrinkling up.

With the tips above, you can do your basic pumpkin carving, but what if you want to get a little more sassy?

Advanced Pumpkin Carving Ideas

Have you seen those pumpkins that instead of regular cut-outs have a cool, orange glow? To achieve that effect, you want to score the pumpkin without cutting all the way through, like in the Jack Skellington pumpkin pictured below. The idea here is not to go all the way through. Peel the skin carefully with a vegetable peeler, small knife, or lino cutting tools to make cool, glowing effects!

Skellington Pumpkin

If power tools are your thing, grab that drill! You can use different sized bits to create all kinds of fun patterns on your pumpkin. Check out Martha Stewart’s Celestial Pumpkins for some tips on using a drill as your carving tool. She suggests using Christmas lights to get an even glow. If you go that route, choose energy-efficient LEDs. You can also just take her carving ideas and use a candle. The light won’t be as even and bright, but it’s an electricity-free option for lighting it up.

If you want to get really creative with your pumpkin, check out Extreme Pumpkin Carving. They’ve got all kinds of awesome pumpkin design ideas and tips on how to do some interesting techniques.

Using the Whole Pumpkin

The pumpkin itself is going to have to go in the compost bin when Halloween is over, since it will probably have begun to rot, but those innards you set aside make good eating!

For most folks, it’s probably natural to roast the seeds while you carve your pumpkin, and this is a great way to reduce waste and get a boost of nutrition at the same time. Pumpkin seeds are super healthy for you, and the roasted seeds make a great snack on their own or are yummy on top of soups, salads, and even in baked goods.

You might think the stringy bits from your pumpkin are compost-bound, and I must admit I’ve composted mine every year, but I recently ran across a way to even use this part of the pumpkin! Save those strings and bake up a batch of Pumpkin Gut Bread.

If you are scraping out any of the pumpkin flesh, you can boil and straing it to make pumpkin puree. If there’s not enough to make puree, freeze it to toss into the pot next time you’re whipping up a batch of homemade veggie broth.

Image Credits: 3 Pumpkins photo by lobo235; Skellington Pumpkin photo by N1NJ4