Thursday, October 28, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins

Stepping over and around a labyrinth of twisted vines, I begin my search to find a face among a crowded patch of pumpkins; which of these large orange squashes will provide the canvas for the funny, geometric expression of my jack o’ lantern?

Some tall and skinny, others short and round, character waits to be carved into every stature. Randomly stopping at the most promising jack o’ lantern hopefuls, I disturb their sunning for a thorough inspection of poking, prodding and utter violation in search of hidden bruises, holes and signs of rotting. I continued to probe the field until finally, I spotted the pumpkin that I would fashion a personality and place into my window sill; it was if it had been waiting there all season, especially for me. Like the headless horseman, I tucked the bright orange “head” under my arm and started home, leaving all of the rejects in my dust.

Carving pumpkins for Halloween is one of my favorite traditions at this time of year. I look forward to the pumpkin picking process, designing a face, and even pulling slimy orange guts out with my hands; it’s all part of an annual project that helps encourage the Halloween and autumn spirit. For the past five years, my boyfriend and I have been carving jack o’ lanterns together. We’ve done happy faces, scary faces, and even two different faces that interact. This year, I wanted to challenge myself with something I’ve never tried before: an illuminated pumpkin. You know those pumpkins that aren’t perforated but have crazy intricate designs shaved into their skin so that the light inside just glows through?

I am so impressed by what some people can do with a pumpkin. Real artistry, craftsmanship, and creativity are required to sculpt detailed portraits and spooky scenes into lowly winter squash. I had a vision to chisel a Day of the Dead-style skull or “sugar skull” into my pumpkin, but otherwise had no idea what I was doing. My goal was to successfully execute this project and prove that it can be simple enough for anyone to do. I did a little internet research, picked up some tips along the way, and even bought a special tool at Michaels:

Pumpkin carving tool found at Michaels. On one end, there is a small knife for intricate carving;
on the other end, there is a specially designed skin peeler and scraper.

The rounded edge of the tool is pushed down along the lines of your design to peel the skin off of the pumpkin. The flat edge that looks like a rake is used to scrape the already-peeled lines to make them deeper and/or thicker.
Other than knives, actual workman’s tools like a router are used in serious pumpkin carving. Of course, having the right tools for any job is imperative for ease and success. With this being my first try at making an illuminated pumpkin, I wanted to stay away from the power tools and keep everything as simplistic as possible; my little pumpkin carver thingy actually proved to be very helpful!

Once you are equipped with the right tools, the next step is to find a good pumpkin and get your design on paper. We were lucky to find a perfectly head-shaped pumpkin and my boyfriend is a great artist so he was able to draw up the sugar skull in only a few minutes. If you are not artistically inclined, you can print a simple black and white, thick-lined design from the computer.

1) After you’ve drawn up or printed out an image, cut it out and tape it onto your pumpkin.

2) Using the tip of a small knife, poke holes along the lines of the image through the paper and into the pumpkin. Make sure that the holes are close together and are moving in the same direction as the lines. When you remove the paper, you may need to retrace over the lines with a marker to help you to see the design more clearly.

3) Cut off the top of the pumpkin and remove all guts and seeds. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin right behind where the image is placed so that it’s thin enough for the light to come through.

4) Using the proper tool, peel and scrape the pumpkin skin along the lines of the image.

5) Clean pumpkin and apply Vaseline to carved areas to seal in the moisture and keep it from quickly rotting. Place a candle or bright flashlight inside, turn off the lights, and watch your pumpkin glow!

So proud of how this turned out!
I have always thrown my pumpkin seeds out after carving, but this year, I saved and roasted them. I attempted to make three different varieties: salt and butter, cumin and chili, and sugary maple cinnamon. Sadly, the sugary maple cinnamon got lost during battle, burnt to a blackened crisp in the belly of my oven. The others came out fine; I just wasn’t sure how to eat them.

When confronted with whole roasted pumpkin seeds, I didn’t know if should eat the entire thing, shell and all, or crack it like a sunflower seed and only eat the pepita inside? So, I Googled it! Turns out you can eat them whole if you want, but it’s preferable to remove the tough outer shell first.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: cumin and chili; butter and salt.  
The gravestone is Godiva chocolate!
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:

Yield: ½ cup of each variety

Salt and Butter
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 2 teaspoon salt
Cumin and Chili
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees
• Melt butter; in a small bowl, pour melted butter over pumpkin seeds and mix with salt/spices. Spread seeds out on a parchment lined sheet tray and cook for 15 minutes. Check occasionally and mix at half way.

Our traditonal jack o' lantern. Looks like he thought that he was going to be left out this year!


Roxan said...

WOW you are truly talented at carving pumpkins! Mine always look like a 2 year old carved it. I love that you roasted the pumpkin seeds. Things that can be used for more than one thing are the best.

Hester Chang said...

Would you know I've never carved a pumpkin before? My thing with pumpkins was to buy little ones and fill them with intricate shapes of solder. Basically, I hooked it into it. It's a great tablepiece. Hmm, perhaps I should make one this year... it's been years :-) But I really want to try this pumpkin-carving business!


What fun! We are headed to the pumpkin patch when I pick up the kids from school today! Carving tonight! We'll have to try your pumpkin seeds!

ravienomnoms said...

ooo the seeds look delish! The pumpkin turned out awesome!

Emily Malloy said...

So cute! Love those pumpkins!

Adelina said...

Very nice Marisa! I am so impressed and love your step by step instructions... this will come in handy for someone like me.

Koci said...

What cool pumpkins!! I love your Dia de los Muertos design! Those roasted seeds look delicious, too. Very cool!

Adelina said...

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Dr.Sameena Prathap


The pumpkins looks lovely...very creative...:)


Karen said...

Your pumpkin is fantastic! I've never had good luck carving pumpkins. Mine come out looking like I did them blindfolded and one handed!
And your chili-cumin pumpkin seeds sound like they would be quite addictive. Makes me want to carve a pumpkin just for the seeds. Yum!

Lazaro Cooks! said...


Love the pic, great smile fo' sho'. What an awesome job carving that pumpkin. It looks so cool.


Happy Halloween

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

Wow Marisa! You're so good at this! This looks amazing. The RIP on pumpkin seeds are hilarious. Love it!

Kathy Gori said...

When I clean out the pumpkin I'm cooking tomorrow..I'm keeping this pumpkin seed recipe! Looks fab.

Angie's Recipes said...

wow How impressive! I have never carved a pumpkin....oh man...that looks really good.

Kathy Gori said...

I'm making your pumpkin seeds right now.

The Mom Chef said...

Bravo on your jack-o-lanterns (both of them)! I love the pumpkin seeds and don't bother getting rid of the shell, especially after taking the time to cover them with all that flavor. Yours look awesome.