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Pumpkin Carving

by Michael Chu
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This Saturday, Tina and I decided to make Jack O'Lanterns. The practice of carving Jack O'Lanterns dates back hundreds of years and is based on a colorful Irish tale. In America, we carve Jack O'Lanterns from pumpkins and put them out at Halloween as part of the fun festivities. Jack O'Lanterns can be traditional or complicated. Tina decided to carve a simple but geeky one, while I tried my hand at surface carving with shadings.

The history of the Jack O'Lantern starts at the Irish legend of Stingy Jack who played tricks on and stole from everyone he ever knew including, once, the devil himself. One such story, for there were many different ones, goes that Jack tricked the devil to climb a tree and then surrounded the tree with crosses. The devil, being unable to climb down, struck a deal with Jack. Jack made him promise that he would never enter hell, and the devil agreed. Jack removed the crosses and continued on with his life. When Jack finally died, he was denied entry into heaven because he was too mean to everyone while he was alive. So, down to the gates of hell he was sent, but the devil would not let him enter! Jack didn't know what to do, because he was surrounded by darkness and couldn't find his way around in the land between heaven and hell, so he asked the devil for help. The devil threw him an ember from the fires of hell. Jack took the ember and placed it in a hollowed out turnip and wandered the earth from that time forth carrying his light in a turnip.

Jack O'Lanterns were carved out of gourds, turnips, potatoes and a variety of other vegetables and lit with a candle to keep Stingy Jack (and evil spirits) away from Irish households. When Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 1800's, they brought the practice with them and began using pumpkins because they were bigger and easier to carve.

This was Tina's first time carving a pumpkin, but she wanted to do something fun (not the common scary face) and ended up deciding on this emoticon: :-P

I looked through a bunch of my photos of Yosemite Valley and drew up a plan in Adobe Illustrator to make a relief, light shaded carving of a slightly exaggerated drawing of the valley. Here's a link to a similar view from Inspiration Point off the website (for those who haven't visited this magnificent park).

Here's a closeup of the landscape in the dark:

Details on how the carving was accomplished can be found in this article.
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Written by Michael Chu
Published on October 09, 2004 at 09:27 PM
22 comments on Pumpkin Carving:(Post a comment)

On September 13, 2005 at 06:58 PM, Aashay (guest) said...
That's a pretty interesting story, and some nice lookin' carvings ;)

On September 13, 2005 at 06:58 PM, siti (guest) said...
oh wow nice i wouldn't be able to do it

On September 13, 2005 at 06:58 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Good jobs on the pumpkin carving! I liked Tina's emoticon, but yours was an interesting piece of art...

And did you roast and salt the pumpkin seeds inside the 2 pumpkins? Jack o'lantern pumpkins don't usually have good pulp for cooking, but that hasn't stopped me from trying in the past with variable results.


On September 13, 2005 at 06:58 PM, an anonymous reader said...
An interesting post. I'm from Australia, but in Seattle at the moment, and I must admit I've been walking past the mound of pumkins out the front of QFC wondering if they're edible, or just for carving.

Do people generally just throw away the contents of the pumpkin, or do they make a soup or something?

On September 13, 2005 at 06:59 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I thought your shaded carving was the geeky one.

On September 13, 2005 at 06:59 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Very nice ideas. I have a few questions on the process though. How far does one scoop the flesh? Leave about an inch all around? Also, do you need to somehow ensure the pumpkin does not 'go bad' so to speak? After a day I suppose it will start sagging and become soft. Any way to prevent this?

On September 13, 2005 at 07:00 PM, Velvet (guest) said...
To the anonymous Australian, I can't speak for all but when I was a kid the ritual was always done in the evening after it was dark. It usually went like this:

1. Newspaper all over the floor, usually five sheets thick (we got messy)
2. Set out the pumpkins, carving knives (cheap, dull "knives" specifically for carving), and the biggest bowl in the kitchen
3. Attack!
4. All the goop with seeds in it goes in the bowl. After or during the carving, Dad would separate the seeds from the goop, rinse them off, spread them out on cookie sheets, salt them, and stick them in the oven until they were golden.
5. Get sick on pumpkin seeds before bed. They're the best right out of the oven, when they're almost too hot to touch. Nice and crispy. Don't ever buy pumpkin seeds in a bag, they're awful.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:00 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I'm that Australian again...

So you don't make soup or pie from the orange flesh? Here we often make pumpkin soup in our household, but we use a different variety of pumpkins from the ones that Americans seem to use for carving.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:01 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: culinary uses of the pumpkin

Generally, the large pumpkins that Americans use for carving aren't used in cooking. It can be done, but typically other sweet varieties are used to make traditional dishes like pumpkin pie. I've been planning to bake a pumpkin pie, but I've been debating whether or not to start with canned pumpkin (what more people will start with) or with fresh pumpkins. I think it will end up depending on how much time I have.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:01 PM, confratis (guest) said...

On September 13, 2005 at 07:01 PM, jsmith (guest) said...
Can you post some details on how you did the surface carving?

Keep it up, BTW. I always enjoy reading this blog.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:02 PM, Angie (guest) said...
I've heard you can put Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on the cut edges of the pumpkin to help keep it from getting soft.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:02 PM, Doug (guest) said...
Some of you may find this interesting. It's the "Pumpkin house of horrors" as created by former LucasArts writer/designer person Dave Grossman (who worked on Day of the Tentacle oa dnt he first two Monkey Island games, among others). Very neat (but twisted) carvings :)

On September 13, 2005 at 07:03 PM, an anonymous reader said...
My family always uses our pumpkins after Halloween. We cut them in half and bake them in the oven like any other squash. Then we scrape out the pulp and use it for cooking, and freeze any left over. It tastes just as good (actually better) than canned pumpkin. And we don't have a problem with wilting or anything, we just leave the pumpkins outside in the cold until we're ready to use them.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:03 PM, Kevin (guest) said...
It's not very often that I come across a pumpkin site where I can show off one of my creations.

Anyways -- this is just a little look at a pumpkin that I carved about 7 years ago:

On September 13, 2005 at 07:05 PM, Michael Chu said...
Kevin wrote:
It's not very often that I come across a pumpkin site where I can show off one of my creations.

Nicely done, Kevin!

I expect more people to post their pumpkin creations this year!

On September 18, 2005 at 01:40 PM, kevin (guest) said...
Subject: thanks
Thanks for the appreciation!

I've always loved that particular pumpkin carving. I'll try to find some more pics and toss them online for all to see.


On October 17, 2005 at 09:18 PM, kskerr said...
Subject: tip
I recently read a tip on another site, they suggested cutting the hole in the bottom instead of the top, the risk of getting burned is supposed to be reduced, plus the top stays nice. It seemed to make sense, might try it if I decide to buy a pumpkin this year.

On October 19, 2005 at 02:40 PM, mac (guest) said...
Subject: Carving
It may be shocking to the pumpkin carving purists, but I find that a Dremel tool with a spiral saw bit can be pretty useful. Due to the varying thickness of the outer rind, it can be hard to cut a straight line, but definitely useful for roughing out the general shapes and then trimming the edges with a knife later.

On October 25, 2005 at 10:54 PM, (guest) said...

They took me about three hours but well worth it.

On November 05, 2006 at 01:51 PM, Lintballoon said...
Subject: Wow!
I love the one on the right, where you use the not-cut-out part for the shadow area! I'm definately going to steal the idea!

On September 29, 2007 at 07:56 AM, an anonymous reader said...
The part we scoop out is the seeds and pith--not the good fruit. Unfortunately the ants get to the meat of the Jack O'Lantern pretty fast. Last year was the first time I bought an extra pumpkin for the meat. After cubing it for soup, I had a ridiculous amount left over. It freezes really well raw.

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