The great pumpkin issue has arrived and my house is abuzz with what will become of this year’s crop. We MacDonalds have never been content to settle for a sole pumpkin on our porch and usually maintain no less than one per family member each year.
I make no claims that I’m an artist, but I get so excited getting my hands dirty with the fall gourd that I sometimes carve one a week early so that it’s sure to rot before Halloween gets here, ensuring another will be carved a couple of days prior to the holiday. Lucas and Graham, 10 and 5, respectively, have designs in their heads and I am in charge of wielding the implements that can, hopefully, make their ideas come alive.
Certainly I have made some disappointing attempts in the past. I’m OK with it. They can’t get the idea that I’m good at everything. Graham still believes I may be the real Batman, and that’s enough for my pride. So when it comes to mistakes, I feel free to make them. Out of three to six pumpkins, at least one should be sort of impressive.
Getting the job done right requires the proper tools. I’ll use anything in this house to achieve the desired shape, but thankfully the boys don’t expect one of these Martha Stewart Pinterest jobs depicting scenes of the Headless Horseman or a bust of Beethoven. They are more into the happy face/scary face pumpkin but venture out with requests as wild as a wolf or a fleur-de-lis. We are a Saints family, after all.
First we must decide whether we want the pumpkin to open from the top or the bottom, then we scoop out the guts and seeds. There is no great way to do this. Hand scrapers, giant spoons, paint scrapers, I think I have used them all.
If you are carving out a design that doesn’t penetrate the pumpkin, then you must thin down the interior wall a bit. Curling a coat hanger into a circle just a few inches in diameter can help with this scraping. Wood carving tools and linoleum cutters are the way to go for this type of exterior design.
Our ideas usually require getting into the cavity of the pumpkin. For this method it all begins with the cordless drill. I have a 12-volt Hitachi that beats all you’ve ever seen. She’s my pride and joy and has outlasted other 14.4-volt big-name brands of my past. You can imagine the accuracy of so many different bit sizes. I’ll even use it to drill pilot holes for my serrated pumpkin saw, also a must-have tool, but it can drill holes much larger. Most home improvement stores will have keyhole saw bits in varying sizes at affordable prices.
Any piece of pipe or sturdy tubing can be cut at an angle and sharpened to puncture the tough skin of a jack-o’-lantern. This is great when you need a symmetrical hole on opposing sides that are too far apart for a drill bit.
The only thing I don’t recommend for carving pumpkins are giant chef knives. Even sharp ones are dangerous when penetrating our hard-headed creations. There is no sense in it with so many safer and smaller options available.
By all means, don’t be scared to paint these bad boys. A can of spray paint easily coats half a dozen large pumpkins.
Eat it up
The pumpkins we carve for jack-o’-lanterns are safe to eat. They just aren’t that good. Pie pumpkins are on the smaller side of the spectrum and closer to being round. By the time you carve the larger ones and set them out they become inedible. Let’s wait until Thanksgiving to make the pumpkin pies and focus on the giant carvers for now.
For Halloween pumpkins, our option will be the seeds. Sweet or savory, we eat them until our jaws hurt and the roofs of our mouths are raw. Eating them is the fun part. The dreaded task is cleaning the seeds.
Okay, it really is kind of fun getting your hands in the gooey, slimy innards of the pumpkin. Let the kids pretend they’re playing with brains or something gross like that. But separating the goop from the actual seeds is the tedious part. The best way I have come up with is to submerge the seeds in a bowl of water with a colander at its side. Just swirling the seeds in cold water will remove a lot of the stringy mess but stubborn strands may need to be pinched off at the base of the seed.
Many of you blanch the seeds before roasting. I find this unnecessary and roast them from a raw state after patting them dry with a paper towel.
Seasoning determines the type of grease you need. For savory snacks using either seasoned salt, Creole seasoning or garlic, I tend to toss them in olive oil before spreading them out on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven. If you prefer the candied feel, coat the seeds in a couple of tablespoons of melted butter. Cinnamon and sugar are more common this way, and a light drizzle of honey could take the seeds over the top.
We eat the shell in its entirety. After all, that’s where the flavor is. Bon appétit, ghouls, goblins and ghosts!