Family Pumpkin Projects
By: Charlie Nardozzi
October is pumpkin-harvest time. Collecting the great orange orbs is only part of the pleasure. The most fun comes when it's time to carve, paint, and decorate your pumpkins. Kids, young and old, can let their imaginations run wild. While you're busy decorating your pumpkin, don't forget to save the seeds and pulp for making roasted pumpkin seeds, cookies, breads, and pies.
The first step is to select the right pumpkin for your activity. Field pumpkins, such as 'Connecticut Field' and 'Big Max', are great for carving and making lots of pies, but they need a big space to be displayed. These varieties can weigh up to 50 pounds! Smaller varieties, such as 'Jack-O-Lantern', have a perfect shape for carving and look good on a porch or patio.
For young children, the mini-pumpkins weighing less than a pound, such as 'Jack-Be-Little' and 'Baby Boo', are easiest to handle and fit nicely in small spaces. For variety, try the white-skinned 'Lumina' or the red heirloom 'Cinderella', that looks more flattened than rounded.
When picking out a pumpkin to carve, look for one that is completely colored (orange, red, or white), has hardened, smooth skin that isn't easily pierced with a fingernail, has no rotten spots, and has at least 2 inches of stem still attached. Even though kids are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the pumpkins, wait until just before Halloween to carve your fruit. Store the pumpkin in a cool, dry area until you're ready to carve it. Pumpkins carved too early in October will tend to rot before the big night, especially in warm areas.
Adults should cut off the top of the pumpkin. Then have the kids use an ice cream scoop to clean out the "guts" and pumpkin seeds. Clean and put aside the seeds for roasting later. Have the kids draw a simple face they want carved on the pumpkin with a marker or on a white piece of paper to be used as a pattern on the pumpkin. If you use a pre-made pattern, pin the paper to the skin of the pumpkin and use straight pins to poke around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Remove the paper and pins and help children carve out the features along the holes left by the pins. Or kids can use cookie cutters to make various designs on their pumpkins. Use a tea candle placed in the base of the hollowed-out pumpkin to illuminate the jack-o'-lantern.
To keep your carved pumpkin looking fresh longer, wrap it in plastic to preserve moisture until Halloween and coat the cut edges with petroleum jelly to reduce moisture loss. Shriveled pumpkins can be partially revived by soaking them in a bucket of cool water for a few hours.