O' Lantern Carving 101
By Cheri Sicard
Before you can begin to carve your design, you must prepare the pumpkin by removing the seeds and thinning the inner walls (save the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds, a wholesome snack). Depending on the complexity of your design, allow an hour or more to make your Jack O Lantern. By the way, the techniques outlined below will also work for carving turnips, some squash or even watermelons.
You can gain access to the inside of the pumpkin by cutting a small hole in the bottom, which works especially well if your pumpkin doesn't want to stand up straight. You can discard the portion that is cut, then set the pumpkin over a candle to light.
Alternatively, you can cut out around the top stem, but be careful not to cut in a circle or the top will fall through when you try to replace the lid after carving. Instead, cut hexagon or six-sided shape with the stem in the center.
When cutting a lid, it helps to angle the blade of your knife or saw inward, so it creates a small lip for the lid to rest upon. Once you've gained access to the pumpkin, use a large scoop to remove the seeds and strings, then continue to scrape away on the inside of the pumpkin until the walls are no more than 1" thick. You can make more elaborate designs by scraping some areas thinner than other, or even away scraping away designs so that the light shines through strategic areas of the pumpkin wall, but for overall carving, scrape the walls to about a 1 inch thickness. If you need to check, you can do so with a pushpin or poker.
Trim away the excess paper from your pattern with scissors (click here for some awesome free patterns). Attach the pattern to the pumpkin with tape or straight pins. If you have the time, an easier way of transferring the design to your pumpkin is to soak the paper pattern in water to help it stick to the pumpkin. Once you have the pattern in place, use tacks to hold it there and allow it to dry completely - several hours -- before starting to transfer the design.
Using a poker tool to poke holes around the design lines. Do not push poker all the way into the pumpkin. Use just the tip to poke through the paper and outer pumpkin skin. Check to see that all the lines have been transferred before removing the pattern. On large designs you can use the larger poker and place the dots farther apart, but for detailed designs, use the small poker and place the dots close together.
The drill tool is used to make small round holes in the pumpkin and the time to use it is before carving the larger parts of your design, remember always cut out smaller parts first, larger parts last. To use the drill tool, push the very tip through the pumpkin skin, then hold the drill near the end and with gentle pressure, begin twisting the tool into the pumpkin. Keeping the drill at a 90-degree angle, grasp the handle and continue turning until the hole is complete. The poker tool can also be used as a drill by pushing it all the way into the pumpkin.
Remove the pattern and rub some ordinary flour over the design to make the dots easier to see. Now the time has come to connect the dots and carve your design.
Use the larger saw for the big areas and the tiny detail saw for the smaller, more intricate areas. It's usually easiest to hold the pumpkin in your lap, and hold the saw as you would a pencil. Push the blade into pumpkin or, if necessary, rock it gently forward and back to insert it. The saws are somewhat fragile, especially the finer ones. Don't put too much pressure on them or they will break.
Saw with a continuous up-and-down motion, with gentle forward pressure. In order to avoid putting pressure on carved (and therefore weakened) areas, carve your design from the center outward, beginning with the smaller details.
The last step is to anchor a candle inside (tinfoil makes a good candleholder) and light it. See where the smoke blackens a spot on the lid, then cut a small chimney hole there, so heat and smoke can escape.
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com, a favorite net destination for recipes, cooking tutorials, holiday and entertaining ideas, celebrity chef interviews, cookbook reviews and more. Sign up for their free cooking newsletters! http://www.fabulousfoods.com