This Halloween I was challenged to a pumpkin carving competition.
With the gauntlet thrown we each set about with uncompromising secrecy to create the ‘classiest pumpkin lantern’ and fashion ways to use all the entrails productively.
I turned to my secret weapon, the Pumpkin King of Bolton.
If you’ve walked down Wigan Road or Deane Church Lane recently you may have seen his work at Marie’s Florists (309 Wigan Rd, Bolton, BL3 5QX). If you haven’t been yet you really should check them out before they go all mushy. Seriously, look at his Alien Attack carving below… His work is amazing.
I knew I could never compete with his awesome carving skills but it didn’t stop me asking for his lantern advice and for a photograph or two to intimidate the competition with.
As he’s such a great guy he wrote me an essay of carving instructions with hints, tips and photos from last year. I considered sharing these with you before Halloween, but knowing that at least one of my opponents reads this blog (you know who you are) I couldn’t risk them getting any ideas, such was the competitiveness between us. (There was a bottle of red wine at stake you know!).
I won’t reveal all his instructions but here are a few tips that made things easier:
- Buy the pumpkins early. When they
appear in the shops they’ve already been off the vine for about a month and you don’t want to risk them going mouldy (or selling out). PK and I both bought ours from Asda for £1 each.
- Forget your kitchen knives. Invest in a craft knife plus either a saw blade (for cuts) or scalpel blade (for peels). Remember it’s a lot easier and safer if you use sharp blades. (I bought a £3 set from the Works in the Arndale Centre).
- If you’re lighting your masterpiece with a candle try coating the lid with a pinch of each of the following spices: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice and nutmeg. It smells fantastic when the lantern is lit.
- To stop the carvings from drying out coat the flesh with Vaseline / petroleum jelly. It’s a messy job and the jury’s out on how effective it is but it’s worth a shot if it might make them last longer.
- Lastly, (and possibly most importantly) if you’re carving ‘cut though’ don’t push anything through until you’ve done the whole carving. Those little pieces stop it from distorting and damaging anything delicate whilst you work.
The first one I carved was this owl.
I was astonished at how well it worked out. I didn’t expect the spooky glow around the moon and branches, which was caused by the thickness of the remaining flesh. I had assumed the flesh would need to be thin to make it work so I’m glad I didn’t ‘finish’ carving it before viewing it with the lights off.
A few nights later I carved a witch making a newt brew. I hollowed and carved this design quite aggressively so it only took half the time of the owl lantern. I only needed to submit one pumpkin to the competition so in my mind it didn’t matter if it wasn’t neat. I could have done more with it but as it was an extra I hoped it wasn’t necessary.
(In case you were wondering how I created the two tone effect it’s done by switching between the cut though and peel techniques. To make the face darker and spooky I peeled the pumpkin’s skin off rather than cutting all the way through).
PUMPKIN IN A PUMPKIN
I know I should have tidied the flesh up a little before taking the photograph but by this stage I was just glad it was coming to an end. I bought 4 pumpkins so I had to use them all. I hadn’t expected my first attempt to work so well.
I enjoyed the competition but it was a lot of hard work. It took me 5 hours to carve the owl; 2 and a 1/2 hours for the witch and finally 90 minutes for the horseman. That’s 9 hours of work excluding research and planning. I don’t know how the Pumpkin King has the patience to carve 13 (or more) lanterns each year.
Of course the carving was only part of the project: The rules stated that all of the entrails had to be used productively.
In the unlikely event that we didn’t have enough pumpkin in our diets this autumn another friend suggested I make pumpkin gin. It all sounded simple enough: cut off the lid, remove the seeds, fill it with sugar, re-seal the lid with paraffin wax, leave it for 30 days then crack the pumpkin open and enjoy.
Two weeks have passed and I haven’t seen or heard a single bubble from the airlock. We’ve been advised to view the pumpkin gin bomb with extreme suspicion. The Pumpkin King says it’s waiting for me to turn my back on it before it detonates and coats my kitchen in yeasty smelling orange goo. I’ll let you know how it turns out…
And just so you know, I did win a bottle of wine ;-)
Did you carve a pumpkin this year? How are you using the pumpkin flesh? Are you trying to make pumpkin gin or have you tried it in the past?
All comments are welcome :-)