How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern
If there is one image that Halloween conjures up for most of us it is the carved out orange jack-o-lantern pumpkin, with its ghoulish face lit up by a flickering candle inside.
The original jack-o-lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were usually made out of turnips, and smaller than the pumpkin version that has become the standard Halloween design in America. The great thing about using a pumpkin is that it is easier to carve, and you have so much more scope to design an impressive face on the side of a pumpkin. Pumpkins come mostly in either grey or orange. It is the orange color that has become most associated with Halloween.
Your pumpkin should not be too ripe. There are two main ways you can tell: when you tap the side of the pumpkin it should sound firm and not hollow, and it should not have a strong ripe pumpkin smell. Check the appearance as well. You want a smooth high and round shape without too many bruises or blemishes, and good color. Be careful not to carry your pumpkin by the stem: it may break off in your hand and you could find your pumpkin smashed on the floor.
To prepare your pumpkin, first clean and dry it. Cut a small circle around the stem and remove the top. Dig in and remove the seeds and soft flesh from inside the pumpkin, leaving a thick wall of flesh inside the skin. Scrape the inside until you have a firm and fairly smooth surface all round, and a flat base where you will stand a candle - one of those short fat candles is ideal. A large spoon is a good utensil to use inside a pumpkin. You are now ready to carve the face onto the pumpkin.
Some people grab a kitchen knife at this point, and start hacking away. There is a better approach. First, work on your design. You can buy stencils with intricate jack-o-lantern faces, or you can design your own on a sheet of paper with a pen or pencil. You might even find one you could print from the internet. A great design makes all the difference to how your jack-o-lantern will look, and will likely be a lot more detailed than something you work on as you go.
Place your paper over the pumpkin and hold it where you want the face to be with some sticky tape. Now work your way around the design outline with a skewer, or something else that is sharply pointed, and mark a line of close dots through the paper and into your pumpkin. When you remove the paper stencil you will have a clearly marked outline of where you have to carve the face. This method is much more precise than just starting to carve without a plan.
If you have a detailed design, you will find most kitchen knives are less than ideal for getting into all the corners. They are not designed for carving, and can be downright dangerous. Firm pumpkins are not easy to cut into, and your hand could easily slip.
It may seem like over-kill, but head off out to your tool shed and find your electric drill and a keyhole saw. You will find it so much easier, quicker and precise to work with good tools. Drill holes to give your keyhole saw a start, and saw around the outlines you have made. After all, keyhole saws were designed precisely for this kind of exacting work, even though pumpkins may not have been on the tool maker's mind at the time.
Knock out the pieces when you have cut them out, and trim up the edges, angles, corners and inside of the pumpkin with a knife. Place your candle inside, and you will be ready to enter a jack-o-lantern carving competition with the best of them.
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