Last weekend, I had a bit of a strange urge. I found myself craving something away from the screens I'd been looking at all week, on a warm evening at home. For some reason my mind settled on pumpkins, and I decided to carve a jack-o-lantern for Halloween.
Now Halloween is not a particularly strong event here in Australia, probably because the 31st October falls in our spring, so a harvest festival is not very timely. But it is becoming more popular, and this year our supermarkets have carried a batch of special pumpkins, as well as some decorations. I bought two of the new jack-o-lantern varieties - one large, one small - and a more familiar butternut. The butternut is actually being used to see if I can germinate the seeds - I would love to grow my own pumpkins and butternut is delicious!
J got the knives all sharpened up, and I started off with getting the seeds out of the butternut. It was hard work! That thing was seriously solid. The cavity with the seeds was really small, and there was lots of delicious pumpkin flesh which I had to cut out of the way.
Once I got the seeds out, I mashed up the flesh and put the whole mess back inside the pumpkin, with some potting mix and water. Then it was time to attack the big one!
I took the top off and discovered that the flesh was only a about an inch thick, much paler and probably not as nice eating as the butternut. Despite being so much bigger, it was much easier to cut open and hollow out. The inside was a bit messy, stringy and gloopy, but that was ok.
Then it was time to transfer the design onto the pumpkin. I'd been looking at various designs online, including a Martha Stewart article, which used a peeling technique as well as cutting all the way through the pumpkin, but there were no huskies. J and I did a search for husky silhouettes. There was some teasing about some really complex designs with lots of hair details, before we had a serious conversation about how to keep pieces of pumpkin connected so they didn't fall out and positive and negative space. We settled on a design that had a pretty clean outline, but also had some interest. And it was definitively a husky, not a generic dog shape. It took a couple of goes to print an appropriate size for the big 'un. A piece of sticky tape at each end, and I was ready to get started.
The internet suggested starting with a skewer, but I took a small knife instead. I began carefully piercing the design with 3mm linear slices along the outline of the dog. I worked my way all around the picture, and along the internal line where the white and black parts of the dog met. Then I lifted the paper off - the pumpkin juice made it a bit sticky, especially around the face, where I'd attempted to trace several fine lines. Underneath, there was a clear design - you can see it best where the light reflects off the pumpkin in the picture. I started cutting all the way through, firstly making a hole in the middle of the section that I was removing, then cutting closer to the edge. I took out all the black patches on the dog, starting around the tail. I took out the hind leg on the near side, then peeled the skin for the far side leg.
The face was by far the trickiest. Looking back, I wonder whether I would have done better if I'd looked back that the original design, but at the time I just focused on the lines I'd cut in the pumpkin. It was only much later that I realized that I'd left too little flesh where the white ruff comes down to a narrow point in the middle of the chest. It really isn't strong enough to support the wieght of the side of the face after I cut the blaze down the middle and continued down the side of the neck. Also, the nose and one ear became much bigger than necessary, due to my lack of skill in such small areas. But overall, I was pretty happy.
Since I cut the jack-o-lantern on that quiet weekend evening, life has been crazy busy, so the jack-o-lantern is sitting in the fridge, in splendid orange huskiness. A friend sent me a great link on a science project where kids compared different methods of preserving pumpkins. As well as an untreated pumpkin as a control, they compared pumpkins treated with a commercial pumpkin preservative, a painted glue layer, a lacquer spray, or a dilute bleach solution. The bleach solution sounded like a winner, but I think the pumpkin's cut surfaces may have now dried out too much for it to work so well. Actually, as the control pumpkin survived a full fortnight with only minimal decay, I'm hoping that it'll last til this weekend.
The final decision will be how to illuminate the pumpkin - a real candle is too dangerous for something I'd like to put out on the front step. Perhaps a glowstick?
Oh yeah, and there's carving the little one. You'll just have to wait and see how that one turns out!