The History of Pumpkin Carving
Every October, we travel to a local pumpkin patch so we can pick out the perfect orange canvas and enjoy the fall festivities. For most of us, it’s a tradition that is very familiar; but have you ever wondered why we carve pumpkins and how it all started? In 1584, a French explorer named Jacques Cartier sent reports from the St. Lawrence region that he found ‘gros melons’, which was translated into English as ‘ponpions’, or as we know them – pumpkins.
The practice of carving pumpkins may be derived from Irish folklore about a man named Stingy Jack. Rather than a carved pumpkin, Stingy Jack, who was known for his wicked behavior, was doomed to roam the afterlife carrying a hollowed out turnip, with an ember in it to light his way. This tale was widely known throughout ancient Ireland. On All Hallow’s Eve, old Celtic cultures would display carved turnips with an ember inside, in an attempt to ward off evil spirits. Irish immigrants eventually brought this tradition to America, which would become one of the most recognized features of the Halloween festivities.
Our Tips For Carving Pumpkins
- The first step is to pick your perfect pumpkin. There are many colors and shapes to choose from, but it’s usually best to look for clean and round pumpkins that have a ripe orange color. Remember that a bigger pumpkin is almost always easier to carve, especially if this is your first time. Choose one without any soft spots, and also try to find one with a longer stem. The pumpkin pulls nutrients from the stem, so it’s likely to last longer if it has more of the stem left after it’s been cut from the vine.
- The most important step in carving pumpkins is deciding which design or face you want to carve into it. We have attached some downloadable stencils you can use to easily create a festive jack-o-lantern. All you have to do is download, print, and then trace the design onto the pumpkin. If you don’t want to use any of these designs, you can find plenty of inspiration by looking around online and in your local community. Another option is to paint your pumpkins instead of carving them, which is perfect for younger children. Side note – consider painting your pumpkin teal if you are handing out non-food items. This lets families with children who have food allergies know they can visit your home for goodies on Halloween night. You can read more about the Teal Pumpkin Project by clicking the link to visit their website.
- Once you’ve decided on the perfect design for your pumpkin, gather all of your tools and prepare your work area. You will need a sharp knife, a large spoon, and a place to hold everything you’ll cut out of the pumpkin. Your space should be ready to get messy, we suggest you setup on several layers of old newspaper for effortless cleanup. You can store put the pumpkin pulp in a bowl.
- Once you have your workspace setup, take a sharp knife and cut off the crown of the pumpkin, leaving a circular or star-shaped hole in the top. Try to cut at a slight angle, with the end of the knife pointing away from the pumpkin, which allows the top to sit nicely in place and keep it from falling inside once your pumpkin is ready to display.
- After you have cut out the top of your pumpkin, take a large spoon and scoop out everything inside until you have a nice clean empty pumpkin (don’t forget to scrape the pumpkin guts off the crown!). You may have to scrape the inside walls of the pumpkin several times to get it completely clean. This part can get a little messy. Transfer all of your cuttings into a bowl, or leave on your newspaper so you can throw away later. A fun idea we like to do every year is save all of the pumpkin seeds, which you can bake for a healthy snack (more on this below).
- Once you have your pumpkin hollowed out, grab a marker and trace your design onto the pumpkin. A dry erase marker is best, it washes off easily if you make a mistake (unlike permanent markers). It’s critical that you take your time and make sure your design is drawn onto the pumpkin correctly.
- This is the point of no return, once you start cutting – there is no turning back! After you have your design on the pumpkin, take your knife and slowly cut out the shape of your design. Take your time and be careful, it’s important to be safe and accurate when designing a jack-o-lantern. When you have finished carving, check the inside for any pieces that may have fallen through and move them to your discard pile. If you want to bake your pumpkin seeds, try to keep the cuttings separate from the pumpkin parts that have seeds. Keeping the cuttings and seeds separate will make it easier to sift through later.
- Once you have finished carving, sit back and marvel at your awesome creation! You can put a light in the bottom of your pumpkin, which brings it to life when viewed at night. You can display them outside for people to admire, or bring them inside and light a candle in the pumpkin, which will transform your home with aromas that smell like the fall holiday season. Make sure you don’t leave any candles unsupervised!
- Some local pumpkin patches have yearly carving contests. Enter your dastardly design if you dare!
Tips For Keeping Your Pumpkin Fresh
Keep in mind that carved pumpkins usually don’t last longer than a week. Halloween is on Thursday this year, which means the best time carve would be on the Monday or Tuesday prior. There are a few ways to help preserve the pumpkins so they last a little longer.
- Try to keep them somewhere dry and cold, warm temperature and sun can cause a pumpkin to decay quickly.
- When not in display you can wrap it in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
- Some carvers suggest giving it an icy bath with added bleach to preserve from mold.
Bake Your Pumpkin Seeds For An Easy And Healthy Snack
- Separate the seeds from the pulp, and discard the pulp.
- Put the seeds in a colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold water.
- Give it a good shake and let them dry.
- When the seeds are dry, spread them in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
- Roast the seeds at 300˚F for about 30 minutes..
- Toss them with olive oil and salt, or any of your favorite spices.
- Return to oven and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and slightly crispy.
Free Stencils for Carving Pumpkins
Here are some stencils to help you carve your pumpkin. Just click on the desired stencil, print it out and trace it onto your pumpkin. Please feel free to tag us on social media when you share your awesome creations!