Every year, like clockwork, when the leaves start changing, a coolness creeps into the air and talk of potential college football championship match-ups arises, aspiring artists unpack their knives. They slice, cut and hack into the orange flesh to create spine-tingling, laughter-enducing and classic scenes.
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 50 percent of adults will participate in the Halloween tradition of carving pumpkins.
This year, The Daily has provided readers with a design by Decatur artist Trish Land. Cut out the above design, paste it on the pumpkin and test out your knife-wielding skills.
Note: The carvers on Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” make the art look much easier than it actually is. Good luck.
Many families will wander around patches searching for the largest, roundest or most orange pumpkin. While all important qualities, potential pumpkin pickers should not overlook the key traits of a healthy pumpkin.
Natasha McCreary, owner of 1818 Farms in Mooresville, offered tips on selecting a pumpkin.
A firm stem. “That is number one out of everything. A soft stem is a no-no. That means fungus can easily get in and cause it to rot. Even if it is the most beautiful pumpkin in the world, if the stem is soft, set it down and walk away,” McCreary said.
A hard rind or body. Like with the stem, soft spots on the body could mean the pumpkin will rot quickly.
Good strong color. “You want a really good orange, not a pale orange or a speckly orange. A good orange means a healthy pumpkin,” McCreary said.
Get ready to get messy. Spread out two layers of newspaper on a table before placing down the pumpkin.
The first cut is the deepest. Remove the top or the bottom. Experts recommend removing the bottom — a rebellious tactic for devoted around the stem cutters. By removing the bottom, the pumpkin retains its strength and you can place the pumpkin over the candle, instead of reaching into the pumpkin to light the candle.
Get dirty. There is no tool that works as good as the hands for scooping out the guts and seeds of the pumpkin. Do not throw away the seeds and guts. To ensure the pumpkin lasts, remove all of the guts so the inside is completely dry.
Design selection. Select a design and tape it on the pumpkin. If using the design above, cut out the owl and the moon separately from the tree. Trace around the design.
Craving to carve. Start by carving out the smallest pieces. The more pumpkin removed, the weaker the pumpkin becomes. For the design in the paper, start by carving around the moon and the owl, then move on to the tree.
Tips from a want-to-be pumpkin carver using the design in the paper:
Modify the design so the tree limbs connect with the pumpkin. It will make the pumpkin stronger.
Make the moon and the owl larger. It will give you more room to maneuver the knife.
Stock up on toothpicks. On a pumpkin, most errant cuts and severed tree limbs can be fixed with a toothpick.
Don’t get the cheapest, all-in-one carving tool. If you want to use a carving set rather than kitchen knives, splurge on a more expensive tool. It’s a bad sign when the blade and handle bends in your hand.
Beyond the garden variety Jack-o-lantern. If uninspired by the typical Jack-o-lanterns, then try one of these creations. Tasked with designing the centerpieces for her daughter’s school, Suzanne Cunningham, of Florence, used pumpkins from 1818 Farms to create bears.
On top of the largest pumpkin — the bear’s body — place a piece of PVC pipe. Set a pumpkin on top for the bear’s head. Use smaller pumpkins for the arms and legs. Connect them to the body with four-inch dowels. For the eyes, Cunningham cut a small pumpkin horizontally, hollowed out the halves and connected them with dowels. She followed the same steps for the ears, except she cut the pumpkin vertically.
“Once we figured out the process of everything and what we were doing, it was very simple and didn’t take much time at all,” Cunningham said.
Another new trend in Halloween decorating are painted glass jars dubbed Jar-o-lanterns.
Use an orange acrylic paint to cover the jars — one or two coats will do. Draw on faces with a black permanent marker. Light up the jars with battery powered lights or use them to hold candy. There is no gunky mess, no potential knife nicks, but also no seeds.
Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it messy? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
After removing the insides from the pumpkins, separate the seeds from the guts for an edible treat.
“The pumpkin seed is so very versatile. It can be used in black bean burgers, chicken salad or even sprinkled on salads for a nice crunchy alternative,” said Brenda Stout, owner of Elizabeth G’s in Hartselle. “And since it’s low in carbs compared to nuts, it’s great for those of us on a low carb diet.”
For the vinaigrette:
1/8 cup key lime juice
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey
½ Teaspoon salt
For the salad:
Granny Smith apples
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Use the top leaf lettuce for the base of the salad. Cut the Granny Smith apples and red onion into small slices and add to the lettuce. Mix in the almond slivers and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Mix all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette together and dress the salad.
-- Brenda Stout
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon finely ground kosher or sea salt
¼ Teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Teaspoons garlic powder
2 Teaspoons chili powder
1 Teaspoon ground black pepper
Mix all dry ingredients and grind them in a coffee mill or food processor. Set up a container of warm water and salt to put the seeds into. Rinse and strain the guts from the seeds. Dry them on paper towels. Don’t let them sit on the towels too long or they will stick.
Line smoker racks with aluminum foil and poke tons of tiny holes in the foil. Spread the seeds evenly on the racks. Place seeds into a 65 degree smoker and cold smoke them for two hours with hickory smoke. Dump seeds into a bowl. Combine the oil and spices and add to the bowl. Toss seeds until well coated. Preheat oven to 375. Spread seeds on baking sheet. Roast for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
-- 306 BBQ in Athens
2 cups pumpkin seeds
Worcestershire or hot sauce
Coat the pumpkin seeds with the Canola oil cooking spray. Place seeds in a layer on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle seasonings on the seeds. Roast on top rack of the oven at 250 for 45-50 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes. Or, microwave the pumpkin seeds for 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute. Allow the seeds to cool 15 minutes before serving.
Suggested seasonings for sweet seeds include cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. For spicier seeds, try garlic, onion powder, pepper, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, chili powder or reduced-sodium taco seasoning.
-- American Heart Association
½ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup unsalted peanuts
2 cups high-fiber cluster cereal
¼ cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons mini chocolate chips
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pumpkin seeds and peanuts two to three minutes. Stir frequently. Set on a paper towel in a thin layer to cool. Combine the pumpkin seed mixture with the other ingredients.
-- American Diabetes Association
The Jack-o-lanterns will go out of style on Thursday, but don’t just toss it in the garbage.
Use the pumpkin as a planter. Make sure to pack the soil tightly so the dirt does not spill out of the carved holes.
Place the pumpkin in a compost heap.
Bury the pumpkin in the yard to enrich the soil.
Do not eat the pumpkin.
In Ireland, people tell the tale of “Stingy Jack.” According to the folk legend, Jack tricked the devil into promising not to claim his soul. When Jack died, God would not allow him into heaven and the devil, as promised, would not allow him into hell. The devil sent Jack into the dark with a burning coal. Jack placed the coal into a turnip, becoming the “Jack of the Lantern.”
Before the tradition was brought to America, people used turnips, potatoes and beets for Jack-o-lanterns.
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