It's time to get into the ghastly ghouly spirit of Halloween -- and there's really no better way to do it than to carve your own jack-o-lantern. Pumpkin carving isn't just for kids: It can be an art, and can create some pretty charming decorations. Whether you're an experienced gourd sculptor or still at elementary-school level, there are a few tricks that can easily improve your results, making for a jack-o-lantern you'll keep on admiring through All Saints Day. Assuming it doesn't get smashed by Halloween hooligans, that is.
Choosing a Great Pumpkin
1. Bigger pumpkins are easier to carve, but before you grab the largest specimen, inspect the rind.
2. A lighter color means softer flesh that's easier to carve in detail.
3. Any bruises, cuts or soft spots can mean the pumpkin's already started rotting -- a bad sign if you want it to last more than a few days.
4. Give your pumpkin a lift. If it's heavy, it'll probably have thicker flesh. It should feel somewhat light, meaning it's nice and hollow inside.
Selecting Your Weapon
5. You're only as good as your carving tool. A boning knife -- sharp, thin and pointed -- is a good choice for carving small details.
6. For cutting out the lid, you might want a larger carving knife or even a serrated knife.
7. If you're carving with kids, don't just hand them a deadly weapon and let them start hacking away with it. Pick up a pumpkin carving set that includes a safety knife designed for small hands. Your health insurance provider will thank you.
Gutting the Gourd
8. Here comes another of Halloween's greatest moments: Reaching inside a pumpkin and pulling out a handful of gooey guts and slimy seeds. But wait! Don't just throw that away. Rinse the seeds and toast them on a baking sheet. Sprinkled with seasonings, they're a perfect snack.
9. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin completely to expose the light-colored flesh, which reflects more light.
10. You can use a large spoon or ice cream scoop for scraping -- or if you're feeling daring, try an electric mixer on medium-low speed.
Designing Your Masterpiece
11. If you're going for high art, print or draw your design on paper first. Then lightly trace the design through the paper and onto the pumpkin with the tip of your knife.
12. For a more extemporaneous approach, sketch your design directly onto the pumpkin with a dry-erase or water-based marker.
Keeping the Flame
13. It can be surprisingly hard to keep a candle lit inside a dank gourd. Make sure you provide enough oxygen to feed the flame by leaving the lid ajar (cut it at a steep angle to help with this) and by cutting "ears" or air holes in the sides and back of the pumpkin.
14. Avoid a pumpkin inferno by placing a tea light inside a pint glass.
15. Want to keep your Jack indoors? Sprinkle his insides with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and he'll double as an autumn air freshener.
image: William Warby.