Sunday 30 October 2016

How to Carve a Halloween Pumpkin

Before this year, I'd only carved a Halloween pumpkin once before and used a kitchen knife to make very crude triangles for eyes and a nose and some sort of jagged mouth. It really wasn't very good, yet year after year I've been marvelling at my friend Julianne's amazing creations. She carves brilliant designs and has done everything from spooky scenes to cartoon characters to Game of Thrones.

This year I asked her advice and spent a very enjoyable afternoon at her house learning the tricks of pumpkin carving. There are some basic rules or pieces of advice to follow, and after that it's just a case of patience and a steady hand!

The right tools are essential but not expensive. Julianne has invested in a set of proper wood carving tools, as she is now at the stage where she is adding shading to her pumpkin designs, but I used a simple set of pumpkin carving tools that only cost £2 in Sainsbury's (on sale right next to the pumpkins).

You get a scoop, two mini saws (one finer than the other), a cutting wheel and a poking tool. The set also comes with a book of stencils which are a mixture of easy and a bit more complicated (if you want really complex ones or something more topical, look online. Some of the Donald Trump pumpkins I've seen this year are brilliant!).

To start, use a large kitchen knife to cut the lid off the pumpkin. Angle the knife rather than hold it vertically; this will allow the lid to sit better. When you have taken the lid off cut the stringy bits of pumpkin off it.

Use the scoop to remove the seeds and stringy inside of the pumpkin - we ended up with a bowlful. Keep scraping until the inside of the pumpkin is clean - you will need to get your hands right inside the pumpkin as well to get all the stuff out.

We found it easier to do this on the floor, with a plastic sheet (a children's play mat, but you can use anything) to stop the mess getting all over the floor.

When you've done that, choose your stencil and sellotape it on to the pumpkin. Use the poking tool to poke holes where you need to cut (usually the black parts of the stencil).

Remove the stencil, and use the mini saw to cut out the sections you have marked. I was going to start with the largest sections first thinking they would be easiest, but Julianne told me that would weaken the front of the pumpkin and make it much harder to cut the smaller sections. Instead, cut the smaller, more fiddly parts first, and don't push out the sections of pumpkin you have cut. Sometimes they fall out which is fine, but if you leave them in place, it does make it easier to cut the rest of the pumpkin.

When you carve, hold the saw at a straight vertical angle and cut down - this is why we were sitting on the floor as the easiest way is to hold the pumpkin in your lap.

When you have finished, use the poking tool to push out the parts of the pumpkin you have cut and discard (carving pumpkins don't tend to be that good for eating). Put a tealight candle or battery operated candle or even some glowsticks inside the pumpkin to light it up and replace the lid.

I had a lot of fun carving these pumpkins; they are not perfect but for a first time at doing it 'properly' I'm quite pleased!

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