Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Carving and Seed Spooktacular

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a little kid it wasn't so much about the candy as it was about the dressing up and running around in the dark. As I got older, though, the tradition lost much of its luster – not because I was "growing up" or anything so trite and juvenile, but because the trick-or-treating was set earlier and earlier in the day out of community and parental fears.

It got less fun, and as it did Halloween parties and other activities became more fun. Pumpkin Carving has been one of those traditions that has never gotten any less fun. Like cooking, it can be a friendly and intimate social activity.

Pumpkin Carving

Some people just start cutting on a pumpkin freestyle, but I like to give myself an idea of what I'm working with ahead of time. Using a sharpie I drew on what I hoped was a spooky face. Pumpkins are porous so whatever you draw on it ain't coming out if you decide to cut something a little different, but really in the dark nobody can tell.

If you're stumped for ideas or just not artistically minded you can find pumpkin carving templates all over the internet. These are basically stencils and patterns you can use when carving.

After you've planned out your carving g'wan and cut a circle in the top of the pumpkin, around the stem, and scoop out the guts. You can use a spoon if you're squeamish but really just reach your hand on down in there and tear it out by the handful.

Have your lovely assistant pick the seeds out of the pulp while you get on with the scooping and carving. Like I mentioned earlier, carving is an opportunity for a fun social communal activity – the more people you get involved the better, and Lovely Assistants are always appreciated.

While they toil at separating the seeds, you can commence with the actual carving out of the face you'd drawn on earlier. You'll want to carve out the pumpkin's inner flesh with a spoon until the shell is about an inch thick all the way around.

Using a Pumpkin Carving Template

If you're using a template from the internet you'll want to print it out and pin or tape it to the pumpkin's face. If you don't have a nice flat surface to work with you can soak the printout in vegetable oil to make it mold easily to the surface you're working with, or just make minor tears in the paper as required. Once its affixed, you're going to create guidelines in the pumpkin's surface with the pin wherever you think will help you out. The general idea is to remove the paper and then play connect-the-dots with the carving knife.

We have no photos of this because we true artistes would NEVER resort to using a stencil when working in the medium of gourd.

Pumpkin Seeds

When you're done you'll have a lot of leftover material – pumpkin flesh, seeds, and the stringy membrane the seeds are suspended in. You can just toss the membrane, but the seeds and flesh can be eaten. There are a ton of recipes out there for using the flesh – make a pie – but what I like to do with the seeds is roast them, almost as part of the carving process.

While you're carving, your Lovely Assistants can rinse out the pumpkin guts to get any leftover membrane off of the seeds. When they're clean you want to boil them in salt water and let them simmer a good ten minutes to infuse them – 2 cups of water and a half tablespoon of salt to every half-cup of seeds. We ended up with a cup of seeds, so that's 4 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt.

After they've simmered coat a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread the seeds out in a single layer in it. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until a nice brown. We added in chunks of pumpkin flesh as well, and they came out very tender and pumpkin-y.

The seeds, once roasted, make a great traditional snack that can be shared and enjoyed as part of the overall process. There are a lot of other uses for your pumpkin's leavings; do you have any to share with us?