Jack O’ Lanterns have been a part of American Halloween since the very beginning. What originally began as a carved turnip in Ireland became the larger, and easier to carve, pumpkin once the holiday crossed the ocean to the New World. Today, you can find Jack O’ Lanterns on many neighborhood porches and at pumpkin-carving contests around the country. You don’t have to be a professional pumpkin carver to enjoy the activity and end up with a nice-looking pumpkin!
Picking Your Pumpkin
Besides being a nice and healthy day out in the fall, going pumpkin picking is an essential step to making a good Jack O’ Lantern. Your pumpkin is your canvas, so starting from the best canvas possible will give you a leg up. To do this, there are a few signs of a healthy pumpkin you can look for. First, check the stem. If there’s no stem or it’s dried and fragile, that pumpkin will likely decay faster. Next, test the outside of the pumpkin for any soft spots or bruising. You want a sturdy, consistently colored pumpkin that won’t rot on your porch.
Make sure you’re considering the image or face you’re carving when picking out your pumpkin.
The shape of the pumpkin can greatly alter what you can carve on it. If there’s a specific image or face you want to carve into the pumpkin, make sure you’re taking that into consideration when picking out your pumpkin. A tall, skinny pumpkin may not work well with the classic Jack O’ Lantern design but may be perfect for other designs.
Prepping the Pumpkin to Last
Once you’ve picked your pumpkin, you want to prepare it for carving. Many of these steps will be done to help the pumpkin survive on your porch a bit longer. Nobody wants a saggy, rotting pumpkin outside their home! A big part of this is waiting until the right time to carve your pumpkin. While it may be tempting to make your Jack O’ Lantern right away and show it off as early as possible, carved pumpkins only last about a week depending on the temperature. A few days before Halloween is the best time to carve.
Another traditional carving trick that may make your pumpkin rot faster is opening the pumpkin from the top. This removes the stem from the pumpkin, which provides nutrients to the rest of the plant. Instead, you can cut from the bottom or from the back of the pumpkin. Both leave the stem intact while and allow you to get inside the pumpkin to clean it out.
Speaking of cleaning out the pumpkin, this is an important step to preserving the pumpkin for longer. If left behind, the guts of the pumpkin can quickly decay and become moldy, which spreads to the rest of the pumpkin. Some even suggest lightly spraying the inside with a water-bleach mixture to killing any bacteria inside the pumpkin and preserve it longer. Others say to wash the pumpkin in a similar mixture for the same reason. Thoroughly scraping the walls thins them at the same time, which will make it easier to carve later, too.
Use battery-powered or electric lights to light the night without the drying effect.
One of the ways that pumpkins decay faster is by drying out. To prevent this, you can smear petroleum jelly, Vaseline, or vegetable oil along the inside to create a moisturizing layer. You should also avoid the classic candle to turn your Jack into a lantern. The heat from the flame can further dry out your pumpkin. Instead, use battery-powered or electric lights to light the night without the drying effect.
It’s Carving Time!
Ready to get started carving your pumpkin? While you don’t need the tool set of a professional, the right carving tools can make a big difference. Even a store-bought tool kit can help you a good bit. After getting your equipment, you’re not quite ready to start cutting yet. Instead, you should take some time to plan out what you want your Jack O’ Lantern to look like. It may help to draw your planned cutout with a marker or pencil on the outside of the pumpkin to give you a better idea before you start cutting. Some people also choose to poke holes or indents in the pumpkins to give them guidelines.
Generally, you attach the stencil to the outside of the pumpkin and use a pin to mark the lines of the stencil on the outside of the pumpkin.
If you want to try a little more complex of a cutout but aren’t sure of your ability quite yet, you can always follow a pumpkin stencil. Generally, you attach the stencil to the outside of the pumpkin and use a pin to mark the lines of the stencil on the outside of the pumpkin. Some even come with instructions printed directly on the stencil. Stencils can be a useful shortcut to better looking pumpkins while you’re still learning.
You can get your pumpkin to last longer on the porch by not cutting into it at all. Instead, you can paint your pumpkin. By painting your pumpkins, you still be decorating your home and expanding your artistic ability while leaving the pumpkin intact and more resistant to rot. The one downside of this is that you lose the effect that a lit candle or lights can create inside the pumpkin. One way to get around this is to shave the pumpkin. This allows you to not cut the pumpkin at all if you choose or to utilize different levels of light (since you can shave some sections deeper than others) to create a complex image. Once you’re ready, you can try all three methods to make a Jack O’ Lantern that’s beautiful in the day and at night!
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Carving a pumpkin is a fun Halloween activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family and has been a tradition for many for centuries. If you’re looking to expand your Jack O’ Lantern display beyond the traditional one-toothed smile, follow these tips. If you follow these steps, you’ll have a beautiful pumpkin display that won’t rot a few days after you’re done!