Guide to the Perfect Halloween Pumpkin 

 Originally Written: October 7, 2009

By  Hanna Trafford

Last Updated on October 7, 2009 by Hanna Trafford

cocome_jack-o-lanternI have always enjoyed taking a trip to pumpkin farm to get the right pumpkin. There are hundreds of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes to pick from and some farms will serve fresh cider or steaming hot chocolate. This is an opportunity to have your younger kids learn how pumpkins are grown.

When selecting your pumpkin, start by deciding on colour and shape:

  • Choose tall skinny shape of you want to make funny faces
  • Round shapes are great for happy faces and scary ones as well
  • Odd shapes will be perfect for creating unique characters
  • If you want something different, choose white pumpkin
  • If your pumpkin will be on your front porch, choose a large one or pick up a group of three or more medium size ones and create a display
  • If you are going to put your pumpkin in a small space – like a table in your hallway, or a mantle, consider how much space you have available and if lining up small pumpkins would be more suitable
  • If you will get your children involved in carving, it is a good idea to choose medium size pumpkins, which are easy to handle
  • Before making the final selection, make sure that your pumpkin has a broad, gently curved face that is perfect for carving, that is doesn’t have soft spots or breaks in the skin and that it will sit safely on the ground.
  • And consider the stem – you want to have a nice one, especially if you are planning to replace the top after carving.

475x357-pumpkincarvingtools_476x357What Tools you Will Need for Carving:

You can easily use items you already have in your house or purchase an inexpensive pumpkin carving kit. If you have children who will be carving with you, it is a good idea to purchase the kit – it will make the whole experience much safer.

You will need:

  • Cutting Tool – A sharp steak knife will do well for straight cuts and gentle curves.
  • Scraper – Large kitchen spoon will do well when you are scraping the seeds.
  • Punch – You can use a large nail to transfer paper pattern to the pumpkin
  • Pattern – You can create your own pattern or use a commercial one – it is still the best idea to have it on paper, rather than drawing it directly on the pumpkin. It will allow you to change your design without having to erase marks on the pumpkin. Use adhesive tape to attach your pattern to the pumpkin. And make sure you cover your working surface with either an old tablecloth, newspaper or a plastic cloth.
  • If you need to make dots in your design, use an electric drill with a bit ¼ inch or larger
  • Designing Your Pumpkin
  • If you have a young child, keep the design simple – you will have a happy carving experience that way
  • Use your own imagination and create the design on paper first, considering large cutouts and simple shapes with larger spaces between designs
  • If you are buying a carving kit, choose one that includes templates
  • The internet is a great source of free downloadable designs

Get creative! Faces are the most popular and used design but you can create all kinds of patterns and even letters can be used to create an effective design

Clean Out the Seeds

  • With your pattern and tools at hand, you are ready to begin. Although you can involve your kids in the entire process of carving a pumpkin, be sensitive to their abilities. Never let young kids handle regular knives, and have them take a break if they become tired or frustrated.

Cutting the Lid

  • You will need to cut out an opening large enough to remove seeds and soft flesh from the inside. Cutting out a good lid will give you good access to the inside of your pumpkin.
  • Cut out about 6 inch circular opening at the top, suing your cutting tool. Do this slowly with even motion and light pressure, keeping the tip of the blade pointed towards the centre of the pumpkin. This will create a bevel that will prevent the lid from falling into the inside of the pumpkin.
  • You could also make an opening at the bottom instead of the top. The advantage is that lighting a candle inside is easier especially if you have a tall pumpkin. If you choose to do that, you will need a screwdriver or butter knife to pry the lid from sticky flesh under the thick rind.
  • Make a small notch on the lid – whether you choose to do top or bottom one – it will make it easier to replace it with the right orientation.

Getting the seeds out:

This is the best part of the job for your kids!

  • Using a large spoon of scraper, remove all the seeds and flesh from the pumpkin. To minimize odors and decay, scrape the inside walls until they are firm and dry.
  • At this point, and specially if you are carving a large pumpkin, scrape back of the face to make it only about an inch thick. The thinner rind will make it much easier to do the carving and it will also allow the thinner areas to glow once the pumpkin is lighted.

2446Carving Your Design

Once you have the pumpkin all cleaned out, you are ready to carve the design.

Transfer Your Pattern

  • Tape your design pattern to the pumpkin. To make it easier, cut away the excess paper around your design. If you need to enlarge or reduce the size of your design, using copy machine is the easiest way to do that.
  • When you have your pattern in place, use a punch to outline each shape. You can do that by using a large nail and punching holes about 1/8 inch apart around the pattern design line. You don’t need to make deep holes – just make sure you have indentation you can follow with your carving knife.

Start Cutting

  • If you are doing the carving, use a sharp knife and gently plunge the blade through the rind to start. If you are using a carving kit, use the poker that came in the kit to make a hole that you will be able to start the saw from. Follow the pattern line with your saw.
  • Maintain light pressure on the blade while cutting and use gentle sawing motion to cut through. Keep the pumpkin steady  with your free hand, well away from the cutting blade.
  • Don’t try to force the knife or saw blade around a tight turn. It is safer and easier to remove the blade and start a new cut.
  • As you finish each cut, gently pull each shape  out from the inside. If you are having a hard time releasing the shape, check that you have cut the rind through all the way. And sometimes, you have to gently pry out the shape, using a butter knife.

Clean Up:

  • Your design will shine brighter if you trim the inside walls of the cutouts to make them straight and even. Removing any stray fibers and strands from the inside edges is also a good idea.

Choosing Your Light:

The light you will put into your pumpkin will give it life. There are a variety of options you can use:

  • Candles – this is the traditional way to light your pumpkin. It gives out a flicker that makes your design dance. For smaller pumpkin, use tea lights and for larger spaces, use a pillar candle. Pillar candles are more stable than narrow tapered ones. If you are lighting your candle from the top, use long wooden match or a barbecue lighter to avoid burns.
  • Battery Lights – Long-lasting battery lamps are a safer alternative to candles, especially if your pumpkin is indoors. You can purchase units that simulate candle flicker so it is easier to use one of them and stay safe.
  • Holiday Lights – These are easy to use in a medium and large size pumpkins. Use a short (like 50 bulb) string and experiment with clear bulbs as well as coloured ones that could give you an unusual glow.

How to Keep Your Pumpkin Fresh:

  • Most pumpkins will easily stay fresh for several weeks – especially in a cool weather.
  • To lengthen the life of your pumpkin, coat the cut surfaces with petroleum jelly.
  • If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, remove the light you are using and soak the entire pumpkin in water for 10 minutes. That should extend its life for about a week.


Don’t throw away the seeds!

Most people throw away pumpkin seeds along with all the flesh after cleaning out their pumpkins.

Pumpkin seeds make absolutely fabulous snack – lightly salted and toasted golden brown…. Try them warm and you will see that it will become one of your family’s favourites!

To make them even more special, you can add your favourite popcorn seasoning


  • Clean and dry pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of cooking oil
  • Salt
  • Place pumpkin seeds in a zipper plastic bag and coat with oil.
  • Spread onto a cookie sheet and salt lightly.
  • Bake at 250F for about 45 minutes until golden brown

Hope you enjoyed this information and that it was helpful to you – please send in your comments, suggestions and experiences – your input is always welcomed!


Hanna Trafford

Hanna is the mother of two grown sons Dan and Dusan Nedelko, and is also the Grandmother to Jax, Cohen and Mila. She is the lead editor of Mama Knows and is hoping to create an exchange of communications with other grandmothers, mothers and daughters - giving everyone the opportunity to learn and share about everything that is "Mama"

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