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Uzzi and I look forward to Halloween because the day after Halloween, pumpkins go on sale and Mom buys us lots of pumpkins to eat. Pumpkins are packed with good stuff like vitamins, minerals and an important antioxidant called carotene. And they taste yummy, too! We’ll discuss pumpkins as food next week, but today, let’s talk about jack-o’-lanterns!
Pumpkins are a type of squash, and squash are native to North America. Squash and pumpkins were a staple food for eastern Native American tribes. When European settlers came to North America, their native friends showed them how to grow and eat pumpkins.
In the olden days jack-o’-lanterns weren’t made of pumpkins—or pumpions, as British people called them. They were hollowed out turnips with grotesquely carved faces. When the tradition of carving Halloween jack-o’-lanterns crossed the sea, pumpkins became the vegetable of choice.
The first reference to carved pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns occurred in 1834, according to The Oxford Dictionary of English. In 1850, American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem called “The Pumpkin” in which he said:
Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
People still love to carve pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns. Sometimes they’re very cool, like these goat-themed jack-o’-lanterns carved by David and Wendy Walters. The goats are, from top to bottom, Sophie Sue, Kenny the Social Climbing Goat and Lanie Lohrmann. Sophie Sue, Kenny and Lanie have their own Facebook pages. Check ’em out!
According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the heaviest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,810 pounds and 5 ounces. It was grown by a couple in Ontario, Canada, but it wasn’t used to make a jack-o’-lantern.
David Finkle of the United Kingdom hold the Guinness world record for the fastest time to carve a face into one pumpkin. He did it in 20.1 seconds flat! He also holds another Guinness record for carving 102 pumpkins in one hour. Steven Clarke of the United States carved faces into 1 ton of pumpkins in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 49 seconds. Wow!
Will you carve a jack-o’-lantern this week? If so, here are some tips to help you create a masterpiece this year.
- Choose the perfect pumpkin. That doesn’t necessarily mean symmetrically shaped. Oddly shaped Franken-pumpkins make ghoulish faces seem more realistic. Avoid soft spots, bruises and dings.
- Store your perfect pumpkin in a cool, dry, shady place and carve it just before Halloween. Carved pumpkins don’t last.
- Draw your design on the pumpkin using water-based markers so you can erase mistakes with a damp sponge.
- Use a sharp, straight-edge knife for major cuts and an X-Acto knife for details. Carve away from yourself and never hold the knife in a stabbing position.
- Better yet, buy a pumpkin carving kit from the supermarket or dollar store. The plastic-handled, serrated-edged saws in these kits are safer than knives and tend to cut more intricate designs.
- Candle lighting requires a top opening so smoke can escape, while bottom and back-side openings work well for electric lighting.
- You don’t have to hollow your pumpkin out if you don’t carve all the way through its shell. It’s easier and your jack-o’-lantern will last longer.
- If you make a top opening, cut the lid at an angle with the outside diameter larger than the inside. This keeps the lid from caving in when the pumpkin dries and shrinks.
- It usually works best to carve features closest to the center first and work outward.
- Carve out large design features in sections instead of as one big piece. Remove pieces by gently pushing them in or out of the pumpkin. If you make a mistake, reattach chunks of pumpkin using toothpicks.
- To make your jack-o’-lantern last longer, coat all cut sections with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly, and cover it with a damp towel when not on display.
- Finally, save the seeds, stringy pulp and carved out pieces for your livestock to eat. Or package them up and send to Uzzi and me. Pumpkin guts—yum!
Do you have a livestock or wildlife question you want me to answer? Send me your question!