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Make & Bake

Enjoy the bounty of the season with some fall crafts and recipes! But first, start by carving the perfect pumpkin...


Choosing your pumpkin:

Be creative! Think about what type of "character" you would like your pumpkin to have, and how you might use the natural contours and unique shape of an individual pumpkin to come up with your own one-of-a-kind design. (Sometimes the best character comes from the most odd-shaped specimen!) Also, think about what you'll be using the pumpkin for... Will it be a small part of a bigger arrangement or centerpiece, or will it be a giant-sized pumpkin elaborately carved for your front porch? Do you want to try a sophisticated design, or would you rather have a simple touch of autumn adornment?

After you have given this some thought, you're ready to choose your pumpkin! When pumpkin-hunting, choose a pumpkin that's not too ripe. The pumpkin should be orange, and not have any soft spots or bruises. Look for a sturdy stem, but always lift the pumpkin from the bottom. Hold the pumpkin (from the bottom) and smell it around the stem and top. If it smells overly "pumpkiny", then there is a chance that it is too ripe. Also tap the pumpkin and listen for a good, solid "thunk". Then, once you've selected your pumpkin make sure to transport it home safely. A bruised pumpkin rots quickly, and may not make it through the Halloween season.

Preparing your pumpkin:

1. First, don't bother washing your pumpkin!  (You can do this after the very messy part of removing the pulp is done.)  Simply set the pumpkin in a large work area, covered with newspapers or other disposable covering.
2. Next, gather supplies.  Some handy tools to have on hand when you're ready to carve your pumpkin include: 
  • a paring knife
  • a long thin-bladed boning knife
  • an X-acto knife (preferably with a #5 knife blade)
  • a small cutting saw (#15 keyhole saw works well)
  • an ice pick or nail (good for transferring a stencil design, if using one)
  • a grease pencil, wax crayon, or dry-erase marker (if creating your own design)
  • an ice cream scoop, ladle, smaller spoon, and/or putty knife (for removing pulp)                 
  • a large bowl or bag to dump the pulp into as it is removed
  • a smaller bowl or colander to save the seeds for roasting later
  • an apron or smock
  • and some paper towel

3. Sharpen any dull blades, both for ease of use and to avoid mishap.  You may even want to sharpen blades as you work, if you will be doing a fair amount of carving.
4. You are now ready to cut the top of the pumpkin...  Cut out a circular-type shape around the top of the pumpkin, being careful not to damage the stem (hint: sometimes pentagons or hexagons are easier to cut than true circles).  You will need to use a back-and-forth slicing motion to cut through the tough exterior skin.  The size of the hole should be about 2/3 the diameter of the pumpkin.  If you angle your blade so that the hole is somewhat cone-shaped, you'll avoid the top falling into the pumpkin later.  Also, if you include a notch somewhere in the shape of your opening, you will be able to line up the top and bottom more easily when you are finished.  Remove the top and set aside for later.

    ...If your pumpkin doesn't have a stem:  no problem!  Simply turn the pumpkin upside down, and cut an opening out of the bottom instead of the top.  Having an opening at the bottom of a pumpkin sometimes also makes it easier to replace lights or candles, since all you need to do is lift up the pumpkin, light the candle, and set the pumpkin back down on top of this "base".
5. Remove the pulp and seeds.  If you are going to roast the seeds later, pick them out of the pulp and set them aside in a separate dish.  An easy way to finish up the inside is to use a putty knife to gently scrape down and remove any moist flesh clinging to the sides.  The more pulp you scrape away from the sides, the more light will shine through the pumpkin when lit, but be careful not to damage the wall of the pumpkin.  Also, try to scrape the inside bottom of the pumpkin flat, so there will be a good level surface to place a light upon, if desired.
6. Wipe down the outside of the pumpkin.  If you use water, be sure to dry the pumpkin thoroughly before proceeding.

Designing your pumpkin:

You can either carve free-hand, draw your own design, or use a pumpkin stencil.  If you sketch on a design, a dry-erase marker is a good choice since you can easily modify your pattern as you go along.  If you decide to use a prepared stencil, follow the directions that accompany the pattern.  By adjusting the angle of your knife as you carve, you can create different looks and glow effects.  You can also use leftover pieces of carved pumpkin to create ears, eyes, a nose, etc. by using toothpicks to attach them to the pumpkin.  

Keeping your pumpkin:

Once you've created your masterpiece, you'll want to keep your pumpkin looking good!  Mold and dehydration are the two biggest worries, and can be prevented (or at least forestalled), by a couple of easy methods...  

First, after you have carved your pumpkin, soak the entire cleaned pumpkin in a bleach solution (1 gallon cold water to 1 teaspoon bleach), for at least an hour.  This will help retard the growth of bacteria and mold.  Then, after drying the pumpkin thoroughly, rub the inside and all cut edges with a coating of petroleum jelly.  This will help maintain the moisture of the pumpkin.  (If you don't have time or space for the soaking step, just proceed to the petroleum jelly step - which will still help a great deal.)   

If the pumpkin will be in heat or sunlight, try to move it to a cooler shady spot or the refrigerator overnight.  For a pumpkin that has already begun to shrivel, you can simply repeat the bleach-water / petroleum-jelly process, giving the pumpkin a cold soak overnight until it regains sufficient moisture and shape.   

Now that you've carved the perfect pumpkin, here's an easy recipe to roast the seeds: 


1.5 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons real butter, melted
  • Pinches of salt, garlic salt, or seasoning salt

1. Place pumpkin seeds into a colander and rinse well, removing as much pulp as possible by rubbing them through your hands.

2. Drain seeds, and pour out onto some paper towel. Thoroughly pat dry and remove any residual pulp pieces.

3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and melt butter.

4. Toss seeds, melted butter, and salts together.

5. Spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet.

6. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.

More great ideas...



*Please note, pumpkins used for cooking are usually different varieties (smaller, sweeter, and less grainy) than pumpkins used for carving Jack-O-Lanterns.