I was at the supermarket earlier today and noticed a massive stack of pumpkins for sale, ready for the Halloween celebrations in just a couple of weeks. What astonishes me is how cheap they are - only a pound in most places, for which you get a very large and well shaped pumpkin.
Like most people I'm only interested in creating pumpkin faces out of mine. Last year I decided to try to make a pumpkin pie, but after scooping out the innards from two large pumpkins I was left with a few bits of stringy mess and enough seeds to start up my own pumpkin farm. I'm assuming that the pumpkins grown in the UK for Halloween are of a different variety from those grown for eating. At least I hope so - anyone know differently? But one thing I do know about is cutting faces in pumpkins. I've been doing this for years, and usually place them in the window in the evening with a candle inside - they make a fantastic display.
The process is fairly easy, but over the years I've picked up a few tips which might prove helpful to anyone who's considering making their own Jack o'Lantern this year, possibly for the first time. The first tip I'd give is to buy your pumpkin early. Often if you leave it too late you end up with the small scratty ones with discoloured sides. People sometimes leave it to the last minute thinking that the pumpkin will dry out and be shrivelled by the time the big day comes around, but don't worry, it will last just fine. Get them early. And if this is your first time you might think about buying one or two extra and using these as practise ones before the big day. The first thing to do is to cut out the top circle. A lot of people just stick the knife in vertically, but here's a tip - stick the knife in at 45 degrees. This means that when you lift the 'cap' out of the top it will taper inwards slightly.
This is important because when you place a candle inside the pumpkin it will dry the top part out very quickly. This causes the cap to shrink, and fall inside the pumpkin. If you create it with a bevelled angle the soft fleshy underside will dry out, but the hard exterior won't, and as this is wider than the diameter of the hole, the top won't sink inside your pumpkin and on to your candle. Once you've lifted off the cap the next thing is to scrape out the insides. I tend to use a dessert spoon for this, holding the bowl of the spoon and scraping around. It's a tiring job and takes a while, but doing this well now makes it look much better and makes it easier to prepare the face.
When it comes to preparing the face, unless you have a natural artistic ability the best thing to do is to have a look online and find a template you like. There are loads of free pumpkin templates available - just pick one you like and print it off. Next, pin the template to the front of your pumpkin and then use a pin to prick a series of holes around the edges of the eyes, mouth and other features, a little as though creating a dot to dot puzzle. Remove the template and use a pencil to join up the dots so that you can see where to cut. I then use a strong knife with a pointed edge and dig this in to the pumpkin, cutting away the sections. I use a small fruit knife for neatening up the corners and edges, and often find it helpful to do this from the inside too.
Finally, once you've cut away the pieces, place the candles inside. Shorter candles are best as they won't cook the inside of the pumpkin as quickly. I don't know about you, but the smell of cooking pumpkin isn't awfully delicious! Make sure that you have a taper so that you can light the candles by reaching through the mouth rather than holding a lighter or match down through the top as you're likely to get burned that way. Finally, don't forget to put the candles out at night as dried, baked pumpkin with candles in can present a fire risk if unattended. Please do send us a photo of your creations - we'd love to feature a few examples on our blog for people to enjoy! Just email us a copy of your picture and we'll publish our favourites!