Jack-o-lanterns are one of many indelible symbols of Halloween. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise origins of jack-o-lanterns, but many historians trace the tradition to 19th century Ireland. In fact, this instantly recognizable staple of Halloween decor actually gets its name from an Irish folktale character named ‘Stingy Jack.’
Jack-o-lanterns are ubiquitous in October, but a refresher course on carving one can help those who haven’t dusted off their carving skills since last fall.
Don’t carve too early. Though it can be tempting and fun to carve a jack-o-lantern once the calendar turns to October, it’s unlikely the finished product will make it all the way to Oct. 31. Horticulturists indicate that jack-o-lanterns have a shelf life of roughly five to 10 days, though an especially cold October could shorten that life expectancy even further. If you want your jack-o-lantern to greet trick-or-treaters on Halloween, wait to carve it until a few days before the big day.
Use a dry-erase marker to outline the design. It’s easy to make mistakes when carving a jack-o-lantern, especially if this is your first time using a carving knife since last year. Use a dry-erase marker to trace the design onto the pumpkin before you make a cut.
Avoid severing the stem. When many people envision jack-o-lanterns, the image in their minds is one in which the top of the pumpkin is removed so candles or lights can be effortlessly placed inside. However, the custom pumpkin carving experts at New York-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers note that removing the top cuts off the vine, which supplies the pumpkin with nutrients and moisture, even after it’s been cut. A hole in the back of the pumpkin can provide easy access when placing candles or lights inside, and cutting here won’t cut off the nutrient and moisture supply a pumpkin needs to avoid drying out.
Scoop everything out. The interior of a pumpkin will be loaded with seeds, which can be removed and later roasted to make a savory snack. In addition to removing the seeds, be sure to get all of the pulp out. Pulp left in the pumpkin will soon get moldy and that can shorten the lifespan of the jack-o-lantern. In addition, when removing the interior, try scraping the front inner wall of the pumpkin thin, which may make it easier to carve.
Avoid candles when lighting the interior of the jack-o-lantern. Candles might seem like the most authentic and even spooky way to light the interior of the pumpkin, but the heat produced by a burning candle can shorten the life expectancy of the jack-o-lantern. An LED light won’t give off much heat and will provide ample illumination.