It's the time of year to be learning how to carve a pumpkin – or perfecting your skills for a more intricate design for this coming Halloween. We don't know how about you, but we've always found pumpkin carving to be just that little bit more difficult than it seems. So, if you'd like your pumpkins to look a-ma-zing rather than just okay this year, this guide is for you. We also discuss what to do with the leftover flesh and seeds of your pumpkins.
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How to carve a pumpkin
The first thing you'll need to decide is whether you'll be doing a simple cut-out design, or a more intricate two-tone design where parts are shaved off rather than completely carved out. For either type of design, you will need:
- A sharp, serrated knife or pumpkin carving knife
- A small kitchen knife
- A table spoon
- A marker or pen
- A pin and paper if doing a two-tone design
- Bleach or all-purpose disinfectant
Pumpkin carving can get a little messy, so we like doing it out in the garden, but you can do it in the kitchen – just make sure whatever surface you'll be carving on is lined with newspapers.
Choosing a pumpkin is also important. The larger, more evenly surfaced the pumpkin, the easier it will be to achieve a neat design. Avoid pumpkins with too many grooves and imperfections.
1. Cut out the top bit of your pumpkin. Don't just slice it off, though: cut in at a 45-degree angle, using your pumpkin carving knife. You want the lid to be fairly small and neat.
2. Scoop out the pulp and seeds and set aside. Now, begin scooping out an even layer of the flesh with a spoon. Leave a little bit of the flesh on the inside, though: if the walls of your pumpkin get too thin, you may find that the carved-out design snaps in places.
3. Draw your desired design on the pumpkin with a marker, pen, or pencil. Now, begin carving out your design using the carving knife. Always cut at a 45-degree angle rather than straight in: you'll make fewer errors, and the openings will let in more light. For very small bits like the eyes, you may need to go in from the inside to make enough of an opening.
4. Now, go over the edges of your cut-outs with a sharp kitchen knife, smoothing over any uneven cutting. This will help achieve a neater finish.
5. Give your pumpkin a bath in a disinfectant solution. The simplest thing to do is just fill your kitchen sink with water and add a bit of bleach, and then submerge your pumpkin in the solution for a couple of minutes. This will help your pumpkin last longer, stopping the remaining flesh inside from rotting too quickly.
Tip: If you're doing a two-tone design with shaved bits, first draw your design on paper, pin it to the pumpkin, and make a carving map by pricking the surface of the pumpkin with the tip of your knife or with another pin. Then, make a thin incision along the perimeter of your design. Shave small bits of skin off with a kitchen knife, always away from yourself, stopping at the boundary you've made. Always do the shaved bits first, the carved-out bits second.
How to save pumpkin seeds for planting
If you have the space to grow pumpkins in your garden, don't discard the seeds. Having said that, not all pumpkin seeds are worth saving: the ones from hybrid cultivars will not grow into the beautiful orange pumpkins we use for Halloween. So, always ask what type of pumpkin you're buying. If it's an heirloom pumpkin, you will want to save the seeds:
1. Rinse the scooped out pulp and seeds under cold water, separating the seeds from the pulp. Do this very thoroughly: if any pulp remains on the seeds, they will likely rot.
2. Dry the seeds as much as you can with paper towels and place of a baking sheet or newspaper.
3. Dry off in a cool, dry place, until completely dry. This will take several days. Don't dry in direct sunlight.
4. Place the dry seeds in a paper bag; store in a cool, dry cupboard or pantry until they're ready to be planted in the spring.