My non-sister-in-law and her family visited the U.S. during the Halloween season and fell in love with it. Halloween is not big in Australia, but I love the holiday and I can’t let it pass me by without some celebration. So, Theo and I invited the family over for an afternoon of pumpkin carving followed by dinner.
Field pumpkins, the big orange type that Americans use for jack o’ lanterns are not common in Australia, but the local supermarkets are carrying them for Halloween in limited supply (my local Woolworths has run out). They cost about $3/kg. However, you can carve just about any type of pumpkin, gourd, or squash.
I think I was the only person in the room who had ever carved a pumpkin. Luckily, it’s easy.
The first step is to hollow out the pumpkin. Use a sharp knife or small saw to cut a hole at the top if you’re going to illuminate the pumpkin with a candle. If you’re using an electric light, cut it at the bottom so it’s easier to hide the cord.
Next, scoop out the flesh, pulp, and seeds with a spoon or some kind of scraper. For an awesome snack, toast the pumpkin seeds. Just toss them together with some olive oil, season them with salt and pepper if you like, spread them evenly on a baking sheet, and place it in the even until toasted and fragrant. In the past, I’ve also used the rest of the pumpkin innards to make pumpkin bread, but this weekend I made Martha Stewart’s Graveyard Cake.
Now comes the fun part: the design. You can draw it by hand or find a template you like online and print it. Cut away excess paper around the design and affix the template to the pumpkin with a few pieces of tape. Trace the design by poking holes. Remove the template and carve along the pattern your traced with a miniature saw.
There are many different tools you can use to carve a pumpkin including keyhole saws, carving, and sculpting tools that you can pick up in hobby shops and even a power drill. I find that the plastic tools in pumpkin carving kits found in stores this time of year work just fine. We used a variety of tools from kitchen knives and spoons to an ice cream scoop, plastic carving tools, and sculpting tools. We were happy with the results.
The beautiful skulls were painted by Theo’s sister.
After the pumpkins were carved, the table was transformed from work station back to dining table. Clean up is easy if you lay down a plastic table cloth you can later pick up in one full swoop. We had roasted rosemary pork with potatoes and veggies for dinner plus pumpkin ravioli for our vegetarian guests. And of course, that yummy spiced pumpkin cake for dessert.
A carved pumpkin will start to decay pretty quickly. There are various ideas about preservation and most of them are myths. I suggest that you carve it just a few days before Halloween for optimum performance. Don’t expect it to last more than a couple of weeks, less if it’s warm and humid out.
We have three pumpkins that we’ll put out to encourage children to trick-or-treat at our door. I bought some individually-wrapped mini chocolates. Halloween has a long way to go in Australia so I’ll be happy if we get one child. If not, well, we have chocolate. Win-win.
What are you doing for Halloween?