Halloween is creeping closer. It’s time to select a pumpkin for carving!

Halloween is creeping closer. It’s time to select a pumpkin for carving!

Pumpkins are native to North America. The tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns, however is not. Originating in Europe, England and Ireland once used turnip roots and beets to carve decorations for fall harvest festivals. Pumpkins eventually replaced these root vegetables due to their ease of carving and ability to hold candle light.

A number of varieties of pumpkins grow well in Florida. Large carving pumpkins like Howden, Jackpot, Big Max, Big Moon and of course, Jack O’Lantern are popular. Although the Funny Face variety is suited for small gardens, as the plant structure is semi-bush like instead of a running vine. Smaller pumpkins like the Seminole variety are perfect to grow in the Panhandle and are great to eat. If you are interested in growing pumpkins for Halloween next year, seeds should be planted by July 4.

Pumpkins found in supermarkets are generally for carving or decorative, as they are large and bred for appearance and not for cooking purposes. The smaller sugar or pie pumpkins are ideal for baking. Remember, timing is essential when carving your jack-o-lantern. Florida’s humid climate is not conducive to preserving a carved pumpkin. To combat the threat of mold, it is recommended to carve your pumpkin no more than two days before Halloween.

Here are some pumpkin carving tips:

Draw your design on the pumpkin with a waterbased marker beforehand. Mistakes are erased easily with a damp sponge. Cut the top and any large areas with a sharp, straight-edged knife. A dull blade is not a safer alternative. Serrated metal saws, now widely available in carving kits, are a safer alternative to knives and allow younger children to get in on the action. Carve away from yourself, kids should carve only

under adult supervision. Never hold the knife in a stabbing position. When carving, keep a portion of the knife blade in the pumpkin and use slow, steady saw strokes. Cut the lid at an angle so the outside diameter is larger than the inside. This prevents the top from falling into the pumpkin when it shrinks. Scoop out seeds and stringy flesh with a large spoon or ice cream scooper.

Carve the facial features closest to the center first and work outward. Cut out the larger features in sections. Use an X-Acto knife for details and the tip of a potato peeler to make small circles and curves. Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin.

Reattach a section that is accidentally removed by using a toothpick to pin it back in place. Make design holes large enough to provide adequate ventilation for the candle. Flatten a spot in the base of the pumpkin for the candle but avoid digging too deep because the pumpkin becomes prone to rot. Make sure the flame is not too close to the top of the pumpkin. To prolong the life of the jack-o'-lantern, seal in moisture by coating all cut surfaces with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil, or cover it with a damp towel when not on display.

A perk to pumpkin carving is getting the seeds. You can roast the seeds as a healthy fall snack. Once you have harvested the seeds, be sure to wash them. Seeds can then be dried in the sun or by dehydrator. To roast the seeds, toss them in cooking oil and salt them on a cookie sheet. Bake at 250 degrees F for 10-15 minutes. Get creative, add other spices for roasting such as cinnamon and sugar or garlic or chili powder.

For more information on pumpkins, please “stop in for a spell” or contact Gulf County Extension at 639-3200. Happy Halloween!

Supporting information for this article can be found in the following the UF/IFAS publication: “Pumpkin—Cucurbita spp.” by James M. Stephens: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MV/MV11600.pdf, and the UF/IFAS web resources: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/pumpkins.html & http://jackson.ifas.ufl.edu/4h/Newsletters/October%202009.pdf


UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.