Pumpkin Carving 101

Our Chef David’s tips on carving for Halloween. Have fun!

Pumpkin Selection:
Buy ripe – but no rotten spots (or as few as possible). They mark our surface and limit the lifespan of our Jack-O-Lantern.  Be aware of your display space to be sure the pumpkin you buy fits.  Be sure to have a rough idea of what you want the face or carving to look like, and pick a pumpkin that speaks to you. I liked the stem on this one, so I decided to make it into the nose.

Cleaning:
Be sure to wash the outside of the pumpkin before you start. They are often far dustier than they appear, and a soft cloth wipe with some cool water will make it an even brighter orange. As for the inside, I like to use a large metal spoon with a long handle for scraping out the seeds and goo. Save those seeds! Clean them off, toast them up and you have a most tasty snack that’s actually quite healthy.

Pumpkin3

Carving Basics:
The hard part….but the right tools can make it easier. You can buy professional wood working chisels, skews and gouges that will allow you to create eye-popping 3D art but  But really, all you need is a good knife, which is no more than 6 inches long, non-flexing, with a solid handle and heavy blade. Thinner is better, but it has to be strong enough not to bend when slicing the pumpkin. Always be sure to hold the pumpkin steady and cut away from your body. Adjust the pumpkin and your stance to the blade, not the other way around. And lastly, I must stress how important it is to have the knife as sharp as possible. Dull blades wound far more chefs in a year than sharp ones.

Pumpkin2

Advanced Carving:
Look at the eyes on the pumpkin I carved. They have a depth that makes the fire of the candle seem alive. It’s actually a pretty simple trick, and it’s all about the angle of the blade in relation to the pumpkin. Thinner places glow under the candlelight, and that glow can carry up and seem to warm the whole piece. Try experimenting with different depths of shading and always remember it will look quite radically different under different lighting conditions, as you can see from my pictures. And the last artistic tip is get a pencil, and draw what you want on the pumpkin first. Use a soft tip, and you can even erase what you don’t like.

Pumpkin1Safety:
Be certain to cut a ventilation hole directly above where you intend to put the candles (and remember to factor it into your design, as well). Don’t overload the inside with candles, one or two little tea lights are safe or you can purchase a battery operated candle.

I’m a traditionalist and I prefer the actual candles. Just be safe and watch your fingers!

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