If you have never carved a pumpkin before, it really isn't as difficult as you might imagine and it is a great activity to do with your kids. Last week I read an article which said that children could be involved in the selecting of a design for the lantern but they mustn't help more than that because it is dangerous. After my last blog rant about kids and knives, you'll not be surprised to hear me say that I don't agree with this and that once again children can be involved if they are properly supervised, have the correct tools and are shown properly how to help.
So, the first task is to select your pumpkin. Children tend to go for the largest they can find but small ones are a lot quicker and easier to carve and look great too. All pumpkins have "sides" to them because they grow resting on the ground so one side is always flatter and rougher than the rest of it so decide which side is best to carve. To get started, cut a rough hexagonal shape around the stalk to make a removal lid. This can be done with a large, pointed and sharp kitchen knife in a series of stabbing cuts downwards through the flesh and into the void in the centre of the fruit. I would recommend that this bit is done by an adult. Once cut, the lid can be removed but there will be some resistance because the gooey stuff inside will be holding it down but gentle tugging and twisting should release the lid.
Now the gooey stringy stuff and seeds needs to be removed and this is definitely a job everyone can get involved in. Hands are by far the best tools for this job and great fun can be had just because it is all so slimy and gross! Once the majority of the icky stuff is removed, use metal spoons to scrape away some of the flesh of the pumpkin, concentrating particularly on the side that will be carved to thin the wall here to make it easier to carve. Save the pumpkin flesh for cooking later.
The next step is to decide on the design to go on the pumpkin. There are lots of images on the web and you can also buy template books, or you can just draw a design. If you feel particularly confident, draw the design directly onto the pumpkin with a suitable pen. Otherwise, tape a printed version of your design to the pumpkin and use a sharp point such as a drawing pin to prick points along the lines of your design to create a dot-to-dot pattern in the skin of the pumpkin to use as a guide one the printed design is removed.
The best tools to use for cutting a pumpkin are in fact pumpkin carving tools, which are readily available to buy these days in supermarkets and online. The small, serrated saw-like knifes cut through the pumpkin perfectly and are easy to use and change direction as you are cutting. If you have a tool like this then you should be able to let your child from about the age of 7 or 8 use it safely. If you don't and are using a kitchen knife then you'd better do the curving yourself as the knife will be more inclined to slip. So, using your tool, carefully cut out the shapes on your design, putting the pieces of removed pumpkin to one side to cook later. If your pumpkin wall is very thick, you may need to remove more pumpkin flesh from the inside of your pumpkin as you go.
If you would like to keep your pumpkin lantern for a few days then smear the inside and all the cut edges of the design with petroleum jelly to help keep the moisture in and the mould out. I have also found with experience that the heating that occurs when a tealight is lit inside the pumpkin is enough to encourage a growth of furry mould so using a battery powered tealight is better for the health of your lantern as well as for safety. If using a tealight, always leave the lid off when the candle is lit. If using a battery powered one you can put the lid back on.
With the bits of pumpkin that you have saved from your lantern you can make a yummy batch of Pumpkin Muffins, which make a lovely afternoon snack after all your hard work!
1 lb (450g) pumpkin
3¼ oz (90 g) wholemeal flour
6½ oz (180g) self-raising flour
½ teaspoon mixed spice
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
3¾ oz (95g) dark brown sugar
2 oz (55g) sultanas
4 fl oz (115 ml) sunflower oil
4 fl oz (115 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Peel, chop and steam the pumpkin for 20 to 30 minutes until very soft. Squash until smooth then allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight if desired. Preheat oven to 210°C, gas 7. Sift the flours and spices into a bowl, adding any bran remaining in the sieve. Whisk the eggs, oil, milk and vanilla together and add to the dry mix then add the pumpkin. Combine until just mixed. Spoon into paper cases in a tin. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.