Pumpkin Projects

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.

Marie's Florists Bolton

Marie’s Florists, Bolton

PUMPKIN KING

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.

Mars Attack - Maries Florist Bolton - Manchester Meanders

See Mars Attack and 12 others by The Pumpkin King at Marie’s Florist in Bolton

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:

PUMPKIN ADVICE

  1. Buy the pumpkins early. When they
    Competitors Guinness Pumpkin lantern - Manchester Meanders

    A happy Irish pumpkin submitted by one competitor

    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.

  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

MY CARVINGSOwl pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester Meanders

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.

Witches Brew pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersEYE OF NEWT

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.

TECHNIQUE

(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

Headless horseman pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersFinally, getting a little bored with the project I roughly carved a headless horseman thowing his flaming pumpkin head.

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.

Pumpkin Gingernut Parfait by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersPRODUCTIVE ENTRAILS

Of course the carving was only part of the project: The rules stated that all of the entrails had to be used productively.

So for the next month we’ll be eating pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin chutney, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin gingersnap parfait (pictured).

PUMPKIN GIN

Brewing Pumpkin Gin / Pumpkin WineIn 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 🙂

Manchester Zombie Walk 2012

On Sunday evening around 1,000 of the un-dead staggered through the streets of Manchester. Groaning, limping, groping along windows and shutters, ghouls swarmed around buildings when they glimpsed anyone inside and encircled pedestrians who scrambled up street furniture in their failed attempts to flee the horde. That night I finally ticked Zombie Walk off my Day Zero List.

REVENGE

I didn’t tell my other half I had a zombie costume. He knew about my list and I’d mentioned Zombie Aid but he didn’t know there was full-body outfit hanging in my wardrobe. I casually left the room whilst he watched TV to try it on for the first time. Satisfied that it was sufficiently creepy I crept back in then stood there, perfectly still, staring silently at the back of his head through blackened eye-sockets until he finally turned his head.

It was probably a mistake.

Scaring the begeebers out of him means he’ll want revenge and I scare far too easily.

I’m still unsettled ten years later after watching The Ring whilst house-sitting – His fault entirely. I don’t remember much about the movie but I know I was seriously unnerved even before it reached the scene where she answered the phone and heard the words “seven days”.

I knew what was coming when the TV phone rang so I was horrified when the house phone rang at exactly the same time. I let it ring, just as she let it ring in the movie. I knew it was just coincidence but there was that part of me that just wasn’t sure. I looked from the TV to the phone to my other half and back again. I begged him to answer it for me but he wouldn’t. I wanted to let it ring but people don’t phone late at night unless it’s important so I didn’t have a choice.

With my stomach in knots I crossed the cavernous pitch-black room of an otherwise empty house, lifted the receiver and strained to hear a tiny unknown voice whisper “seven days.”

I hated him for that.

This should make us even.

Sammy Dee (Manchester Meanders) as a Zombie

Can you believe my friend’s 14 year old son didn’t want to wear this costume? It wasn’t cool enough or something. Personally I love it.

I love the fact that other zombies were scared of me. Every now and then I’d overhear one telling another that I was freaking them out – So naturally on hearing this I slowly turned to face them and stared at them until they ran away. Muhahahar!

Why did the Zombie cross the road? (Zara on Market Street, Manchester)

For more photographs visit the Manchester Evening News (All fright on the night) or look for zombies you know on this 22 minute YouTube video.

Zombies in the PrintworksDid you take part in the Zombie walk? Do you have any photos to share?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

All comments are welcome 🙂