The tradition of carving pumpkins dates back for many centuries. The people of Ireland and Scotland used to carve scary faces in to turnips and potatoes to deter evil sprits from entering their homes. In England they sometimes used large beets to jack-o-lanterns. When immigrants came to America they brought this tradition with them but found a more suitable native fruit -- the pumpkin.
You might be surprised to learn that there are more than 50 varieties of pumpkins. There is a lot of research done by universities to attempt to improve the quality of the pumpkin for production. Some ways to improve pumpkin quality would be to improve the handle of the pumpkin and to help them gain disease resistance.
Selecting a pumpkin can be a challenge. You always want to select a ripe pumpkin.
Choose a pumpkin that has no bruises or soft spots. These bruises or soft spots may be signs that the pumpkin is starting to spoil and may not last long enough for use.
Store the pumpkins in a cool, dry place where there is enough space between pumpkins to allow air to circulate. This will help prevent bruising of the flesh. One bad spot on a pumpkin can affect the others. You never want to carry a pumpkin by the stem. The stem can easily break and you may wind up with a squash.
When picking pumpkins to eat, you may be better off with smaller pie pumpkins. These pumpkins sometimes have better flavor than the large pumpkins that people often favor for jack-o-lanterns.
If you intend to eat your pumpkin it is best not to carve it. Carving the pumpkin and allowing it to sit can cause the pumpkin to spoil; that wouldn't make a good pie.
Carving jack-o-lanterns is a tradition at this time of year. Make sure there is adult supervision whenever children are carving pumpkins. For small children it may be better to allow them to decorate their pumpkins with stickers, paints or markers. There are many creative ways to decorate a pumpkin.
It is best to carve a pumpkin the same day you intend to use it. You can carve a day in advance and store it in the refrigerator.
Make sure to cover the whole pumpkin in plastic wrap, including the carvings. Cover the top and place it back in the pumpkin. Make sure there is a layer of plastic between the top and the ledge. Do not freeze the pumpkin because it will turn in to a mushy mess.
If you need to restore a shriveling pumpkin, soak it for two to six hours. Be careful not to oversaturate it because the pumpkin can crack. Vaseline or vegetable oil spread on the cut edges can help make your carving last longer by sealing in the moisture.
There are many tools out there to help carve pumpkins. Many of them have safety features to help prevent injuries. If you use a kitchen knife, make sure it is very sharp. The pumpkin skins are very hard to get through and adult help is needed.
When cutting into the pumpkin to gut it, try cutting it out on the bottom. A cut on the bottom can help the pumpkin sit securely on a surface and makes it easier to take the insides out.
You can make a tasty snack by roasting the seeds of the pumpkin. Scrape the edges so they are about an inch thick. Any thicker and it may be difficult to carve into; any thinner and the carving may lose its shape.
Pumpkin carving is a lot of fun and can bring the whole family together. If you take safety precautions everyone can have a safe and fun holiday.
Saturday: Halloween Festival at Fairgrounds, 1 to 4 p.m.
Nov. 6: "Going Wild" Backyard Wildlife Habitat Workshop, Georgetown