Ode to the Pumpkin
Pumpkins are my favorite vegetable, possibly even my favorite fruit. Pumpkins are fun to look at, delicious to eat and versatile to cook; their traditional orange color is fun and combined with their rounded shape invokes playtime images of basketballs and balloons. Each year when September rolls around my collection of pumpkins begins. Tiny little pumpkins for decoration (although I’ve recently found a recipe for the little guys), small pumpkins for baked goods and large round and oval specimens for Jack O’ Lanterns begin to gather in our home; many of them will remain until after Thanksgiving.
Sometime during the weekend before Halloween the birth of a Jack O’ Lantern begins. Actually, we have always had triplets; one for me and one for each of the kids. We spread newspaper on the kitchen table and gather our tools. Whether using a pattern or drawing freehand, the first step should be to wash and dry the chosen gourd because most pumpkins will have some residual dirt clinging to them. The next step should be to take the top (or even the bottom) off the pumpkin in order to hollow it out. I find that the best tool for this job is a serrated knife and the knives with the rounded tips that come inpumpkin carving kits are actually very effective and prevent you from stabbing yourself should the knife slip. Start by cutting a circle large enough to fit your hand into around the stem of the pumpkin. If you cut at an angle towards the stem, you’ll be able to reseat the lid you’ve just created because it will have the edge to sit on.
Next, scoop out the seeds and as much of the pulp as you can. You can use your hands, a spoon or my personal favorite: a plastic ice cream scoop to do the job, but you’ll probably end up using your hands at some point. Save those innards! Once separated from the pulp, the seeds can be washed and roasted for a nutritious and tasty alternative to potato chips. Once your pumpkin is clean inside, wipe it off to make sure that it’s dry on the outside. This step is especially important if you’re making the design yourself rather than using a paper template since the marker (I find Sharpies to be the best) won’t write on a wet surface. Once your face or whatever design you’ve made is done you can use your serrated knife to cut out the sections to be illuminated.
Tradition at our house calls for the following ceremony: place a candle into the jack o’ lantern and light it (or turn it on if you’re using a battery operated device), close the lid, turn the lights off and sing “Happy Birthday” to your new creations!