Florida’s heat and humidity usually runs well into October, so don’t carve your pumpkin too early if you want that jack-o'-lantern to last until Halloween. Maybe paint it for now, and wait until a few days before Halloween to set up your carving creation in the window.
Here are some tips from pumpkin masters on how to make the most out of your gourd.
1. Get the right shape: If you have a design in mind, such as a bat or a ghost, think about getting a more squarish or oval-shaped pumpkin. You can also take advantage of some of the pumpkin’s natural warts and bumps and work them into your design.
2. Use the right tools: There are lots of pumpkin carving kits available with small saws and scoops that can be handy and fairly inexpensive. Some common household tools can also make cleaning and carving a pumpkin easier. An ice cream scoop does a good job of scraping out the seeds and pumpkin flesh from the inside, as does a large serving spoon. A sharp, short blade like a paring knife or steak knife is the easiest to maneuver in small spaces. An ice pick, pushpin or extra large sewing needle can be used to poke a series of dots around your image to guide your knife. A power drill can be used to create a fun series of polka dots.
3. Save the seeds! A great offshoot of carving your own pumpkin is roasting your own pumpkin seeds to have as a snack while watching scary movies. Rinse them well and lay them out to dry on a cookie sheet. Or you can speed things up by drying raw pumpkin seeds on baking sheets in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes or so. To flavor them, toss with spices, salt and oil, and roast for 10 minutes at 375 degrees until they are golden brown.
4. Thin the walls of the pumpkin: After scraping out the pumpkin’s guts, scrape the walls of the pumpkin with a large spoon. Try to thin the shell further by shaving it down from the inside using a scraping tool. This allows for easy carving and brightens the appearance of any subtle etching and shaving you may add later.
5. Use a stencil: There are lots of free downloadable stencils you can find to help guide your carving. Cut out the stencil and tape it to the pumpkin and use a dry erase marker to outline the image or use a pushpin to poke a series of dots to guide your knife.
6. Preserve the pumpkin: Unlike the chilly North, we still have balmy weather that can rot a carved pumpkin quickly. Once you have finished carving, the Pumpkin Patch of Miami recommends making a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach and 1 quart water. Put it in a spray bottle and spray the inside and all cut areas of the pumpkin with the solution. Let it penetrate and dry for about 20 minutes. Next, rub all of the carved or cut surfaces with petroleum jelly. “This will keep out new bacteria and molds as well as dramatically reduce the dehydration,” the 65-year-old farm recommends. Wipe away excess with a paper towel and keep the pumpkin out of direct sunlight and try to keep it as cool as possible.
7. Light the pumpkin: If you go the old-fashioned route of a tea candle or other flame, remember to create a little chimney to let the heat and smoke escape. Light the candle and put the lid back on for a few minutes to see where it has blackened. Then cut a small hole there for smoke to escape. Flameless options include LED tea candles (which will still give the illusion of flickering fire), LED strobe lights, glow sticks that you can mix and match in several different colors and a string of holiday lights you can wrap around a ball and place inside your pumpkin.