Halloween: Carving Pumpkins and Roasting Seeds
Carve Awesome Pumpkins!
Autumn: a time when the weather starts to cool, the leaves change and fall, and children run into leaf piles with reckless abandon.
They also like to carve pumpkins, too.
Did you ever want to try to do a fancy pumpkin carving? You’ve seen those kits in the stores and wondered if they really work - you know you have.
I decided to buy one and see if I could carve like a pro. I mean I can chop wood like a pro, what’s it to me to wield a little saw as compared to a big one?
Well, I found out that there’s a lot to it. While you can create a great pumpkin carving, the directions on those kits leave a lot to be desired.
With a little time and patience, you can impress friends and family with your orange-globed carvings. But, it won’t happen overnight. I also found that it’s not a job for little fingers.
Yes, little ones shouldn’t be wielding knives, but you can give them some other fun things to do – like helping out with the design, separating the seeds from the pulp, drying out pumpkin seeds to be eaten later, or even using a blender (if they’re a little older) to chop up the pulp to make some pumpkin bread or pumpkin whoopie pies!
In this article, I’ll show you how to carve a pumpkin like a pro, roast pumpkin seeds and make pumpkin bread – all from one pumpkin!
Prep the Pumpkin
Before you even think about taking a knife to a pumpkin, let me be the first to tell you that no matter how clean you like things, the end result will have you running to the sink trying to get orange stringy pulp off your hands. Fun if you like that sort of thing, but I’m not big on getting my tools sticky.
Do yourself a favor: get your work area ready. Your life will be less of a stringy orange mess and your work move along a little easier.
What You’ll Need:
A solution of 1:1 distilled vinegar and water (optional) - you can just use water or a bit of soapy water
Pumpkin carving kit
The pulpy goodness of the pumpkin is maddeningly sticky, so you’ll want to lay a couple layers of newspaper where you’re working. Then, just when to oopy-goopy goodness is at its height, you can just roll up the newspaper and put it in the compost pile.
Take the vinegar/water solution and clean your pumpkin. This way, you can carve on a clean surface and take comfort in the fact that you won’t be putting any residual pesticides into your food as you scoop out the pulp and seeds.
Cleaning Out Your Pumpkin
Start with the bottom of the pumpkin and not the top. This is actually great advice – I found this out from the pumpkin kit directions. How many of us carve the top out where the stem is?
Whether you use an electric light or a candle, you don’t have to go in through the top of the pumpkin to light it. This is good for me, since I’m a little accident-prone. I have the burnt-off nerve endings from previous pumpkin escapades to prove it. No more burning my fingers!
With a knife – remember, not too large – carve out a circle in the bottom of the pumpkin. Remove the part you cut out. Take the scooper and start to scoop out the pulp and seeds into the bowl. Don’t worry about separating them now, unless you have an anxious little one willing to get their hands very orange and very gooey.
You’ll need to use a combination of the scooper and your hands to really clean the insides of the pumpkin.
Now, you’re ready to start carving…after one more little thing.
Select a design from the pumpkin carving kit. I chose the “Eek!” design from mine.
The instructions on the kit tell you to tape the design to the pumpkin and use the “roller” to lightly trace the design onto your pumpkin by slightly indenting the skin.
Um, that doesn’t work. At least it didn’t when I tried it. For twenty minutes I sat there, bending the plastic roller, trying to make it indent the pattern on to the pumpkin skin. I think I ran over my fingers with it a couple times, inflicting temporary dents on my hands.
I’m willing to admit that since this was my first time trying to use a pumpkin kit, I might be wrong in that assumption, but I found a way that worked better for me: Sharpies!
I freehanded my design onto the face of my pumpkin. I even added a bit of my own flair to it – Eek! It took me about 2 minutes and I was done.
Carving Your Pumpkin
Now, I was ready to carve.
I grabbed my tools: a larger (but still very tiny) saw, the smaller tiny-saw, and a “poker.” I’m sure there are technical words to better-describe these tools, but I admit I’m slightly amused by my colloquial name designations.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the tools, but now that I’m a “pro,” I can shed some light on the inner workings of this process.
When you start carving, you need to be extra careful to not bend the blades on the saws, at all. At best, you’ll bend the blade, but you’ll be able to bend it back a bit. At worst, you’ll break off the blade and now your carving experience will be much harder. I didn’t do that so, unfortunately, I can’t tell you what to do if your blade breaks – try not to do that!
When you start working on your design, you’ll find that the larger tiny-saw is great for straighter lines. The smaller tiny-saw is great for working on curvy lines. The poker is great for “preparing the way” for the two saws. What does that mean?
Well, when you start on a line, if it’s curvy and has lots of turns, poke it with the poker uniformly down the line to indent the skin of the pumpkin. Then, use the smaller tiny-saw to “draw a line.” Go over the line again with the smaller tiny-saw until you’re able to poke through. Work at a 90-degree angle to the pumpkin as much as you can. The blade can bend “up” if you try to drag it too much through the pumpkin material.
When you get to a long, straight part of the design, use the larger tiny-saw and “drag” the blade over the line, but not too deep. Do that a few times to get deeper and deeper into the pumpkin skin. You’ll find that you need to use a combination of poking with the saw and a bit of dragging.
Do this for the whole design.
Will You Try an Awesome Pumpkin Carving?
Punch Out Your Design
Now, try to punch it out. Best of luck to you.
It won’t work.
Here’s something else the directions don’t tell you: it is virtually impossible to punch out your design, even if you have flawlessly carved it out. There are too many nooks and crannies.
So, you have to cut it out in sections.
By that, I mean you need to select a small area to be cut out, but where you have already "sawed" that section.
Take the large tiny-saw, and cut a line through the cut-out area. (See pictures.) Make sure all the lines in the section you’ll be cutting out are completely cut. It’s hard to punch out a section if pieces of pumpkin are still attached to it. Think of it like cutting out basic shapes from your pumpkin – you’re creating smaller cut-outs to make it easier to cut out the whole design.
Do this in small increments for your whole design. I used my free hand to help punch out the sections from the inside of the pumpkin. With a little persistence, you’ll be able to do it. Use the poker to help you poke those sections out, too.
Compost the punched-out sections. They’ll have Sharpie marks on them, so you won’t want to eat them. Unless, of course, they suddenly make edible Sharpie markers, but something tells me I’ve been handling all-things-pumpkin for a little too long.
Clean up the part of your design closest to the inside parts of the pumpkin. You’re sure to have stray pumpkin parts jutting out into an otherwise open area, so you’ll want to clean up stray pulp, chunks and the like.
When you’re finished, take a paper towel and either dip in water, or even better, rubbing alcohol and wipe down the carving to get the Sharpie marks to go away.
This part took me only 3.5 hours to complete. A wee bit longer than I anticipated.
Now For the Seeds
You’re not finished, yet! Why not have fun with those pumpkin seeds and pulp?
When you go to separate the pumpkin seeds, do it with your bare hands. Run them over and over through the pulp and put into a separate bowl.
Don’t worry if the seeds still have some pulp attached to them. Put them into a strainer and run water over them. Gently squeeze the seeds through your fingers as you run water over the seeds and the pulp will separate from the seeds.
Let the seeds drip-dry for a few moments while you spread out another paper towel. Pour the seeds onto the paper towel, about one seed thick. Let them dry completely. You might want to change out the paper towel once or twice during this process, because the seeds like to stick to the paper towel. Allow anything from several hours to 24 hours for them to dry.
(While you’re waiting, now’s a good time to go work with the pulp.)
When the seeds are dry, decide what taste you’re looking for. I decided on a “kettle cooked” taste. See the table for more ideas.
Kettle-tasting Pumpkin Seeds
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp brown sugar (or a little more)
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 300° F – you want the heat fairly low. Drizzle the butter over the seeds. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter and add the cinnamon. Mix the seeds with your hand.
Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden.
Let cool and enjoy!
Different Combinations for Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Type of Flavor
2 tbsp melted butter, some brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon
a drizzle of olive oil, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, salt
a drizzle of olive oil, garlic salt, whole garlic cloved to be roasted with the seeds
Sweet and sour
olive oil, sugar, lemon pepper
Use the Pulp to Make Pumpkin Bread
Before using the pulp in your recipe, you must run it through a food processor or blender to break up the fibers, or you will have some interesting sweater-like bread! Add a little water, if necessary, and only do a little at a time. But, you should get about 2 cups of pulp from your average medium-sized pumpkin.
2 cups pumpkin puree (you can also use the canned version here)
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray a bread pan with non-stick spray.
Mix everything except the raisins in a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat all the ingredients together, at medium speed, for two to three minutes. Fold in the raisins.
Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cool and enjoy!
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun