Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+ Join today!.
Start with the perfect pumpkin:
- Patronize a pick-your-own farm to ensure freshness.
- Keep your design in mind as you shop so you select an ideal shape and size.
- Inspect all sides, checking for soft spots or mold.
- Make sure the stem is dry and even a bit brittle.
- Leave as much of the stem as possible, to help the pumpkin last longer.
A gleefully grinning ghoul isn’t even your only design option. Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell, author of How to Carve Pumpkins for Great Results and Decorating Pumpkins and Gourds, suggests “curious cats” as alternative designs, or such seasonal etchings as falling leaves.
Don’t confine yourself to the traditional orange pumpkin, either, advises Schneebeli- Morrell. “A white boer pumpkin looks dramatic with engravings, and the creamy color of a butternut squash is great for etching funky patterns,” she says. Or you may find inspiration in the green speckled skin of a fig leaf gourd.
You can generally rely on what’s in your kitchen—a pointy knife, plus a spoon or ice cream scoop—to create your basic jack-o’-lantern from a garden-variety pumpkin. But you may want to invest in a lino cutting tool to craft intricate patterns on tougher-skinned squashes and gourds and a flat-ended wood-carving tool to help remove firmer flesh—both are available at most art supply stores.
You’ll extend the life of your creation by rubbing the cut flesh with vegetable oil after carving, Schneebeli-Morrell says: “And if you’re not using it immediately, store it in the refrigerator, then soak it in water for up to two hours to revive it for its shining night.”