Halloween pumpkins: How to carve guide

Posted on: 19 October 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

All Hallows Even, Hallowmas, Samhain, All Saints or just plain Halloween; it is an evening to entertain the granchildren so brush up on your pumpkin carving skills with Craig Glenday.


The idea of leaving a glowing pumpkin head on your doorstep or in your window dates back to an ancient Celtic tradition. On 31 October, the end of the Pagan new year, a carved turnip containing a burning lump of coal was a sign that you welcomed the spirits of your ancestors into your home. The glowing lantern also provided protection from malevolent entities.

So strong were these beliefs that when European settlers arrived in America, they continued the tradition, swapping the turnip for a pumpkin – which is much easier to carve – and replacing the coal with a candle. When the pumpkin arrived in Britain in the 16th century, it also became the most popular choice for a lantern.

Keep the tradition alive – and those evil spirits at bay – by carving your own protective pumpkin-head lantern. Look for pumpkins with a healthy orange colour all over – avoid any with bruises or patchy colouring. They should be as ripe as possible, and have a sturdy stalk.

Pumpkin Step-By-Step:

Cut the lid. Start by making a hole in the top of the pumpkin. You need to cut out a lid that can be replaced once you’ve finished, so angle the knife towards the centre of the pumpkin as you cut. The bevelled edge will keep the lid in place. You might also find it easier to cut a six-sided lid, rather than a circle.

Clean it out. Next, use a wooden spoon to clean out the seeds and strings. Keep the seeds for later – you can toast them or make some fun Vampire Fingernails. Where you plan to carve the face, scrape away the pulp until the wall is about 3cm thick.

Add the face. The best way to design the face is to draw it on paper first and tape or pin it to the pumpkin (or soak it in water and just slap it on – the water will make it stick). Then, using a toothpick or opened-up paperclip, prick holes along the lines and into the pumpkin. When you remove the paper, you’ll be left with a dotted outline of the face. You can make these holes easier to see by rubbing flour over the front of the pumpkin.

Carve. Following the dotted line, cut the shapes out with a pointed saw-blade knife. You may need a few different-sized knives. Use a gentle but firm sawing action to avoid breaking bits off the pumpkin. Pieces that do fall off can be reattached with a toothpick.

Preserve. Rubbing the insides of the pumpkin with diluted bleach (1:5 ratio) will preserve it for a few more days. The carved edges also deteriorate more slowly if you coat them lightly with Vaseline or any other petroleum jelly.

Light. Make a basic candleholder from tinfoil and secure the candle at the base. Cut a small chimney hole in the lid to let the heat and smoke escape. You could even use a small electric light – unscrew the plug from the flex, bore a hole in the back of the pumpkin, and feed the flex through. Then reattach the plug. Use a low-wattage bulb if you plan to leave it on for a long time.

Pumpkin Variations:

Carve lanterns from different types and sizes of squash – if you’re really keen, you can make a whole pumpkin family

For a quick one-off table decoration, carve a face in a large pepper and use a small nightlight candle

For a completely new look, turn the pumpkin on its side and carve the face on top – the stem will look like a big, grotesque nose

Watermelons also make great lanterns

If you can’t be bothered to do the carving, hollow out the pumpkin and use it as a Halloween flowerpot

Lantern Tips:

If your pumpkin isn’t standing up straight, cut a horizontal slice from the base

For a truly spooky effect, suspend your pumpkin from the ceiling using a plant hanger; two or three of these down a hallway will really get your kids into the spirit of Halloween

If you keep your pumpkin outside, smear on some Tabasco sauce to keep the local pets and birds away

Add some tough herbs such as rosemary or thyme to the cavity for an aromatic effect, or use a scented candle

Varnishing your pumpkin will make it last much longer

Finally, keep safe: hands and knives can become slippery from the pumpkin pulp, and you need to take the usual safety precautions with naked flames, especially around children.More: Find out how to be a domestic witch.Enchant your guests with a Halloween supper or Halloween party.

By Craig Glenday

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