How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern

One of the quintessential traditions for Halloween is learning how to make a jack-o-lantern. It would be a shame to let Halloween slip by without sitting down with your kids to share in fun Halloween traditions, something that you probably did with your parents, and they no doubt did with theirs. What each of these generations all did to mark the coming of the spooky evening was to carve a pumpkin into what we know as a jack-o-lantern.

Preparing the Pumpkin
The first step is to choose a pumpkin, and there's no shortage or lack of variety,at roadside farm stands or supermarkets. Shape is purely a personal choice-short or tall, skinny or rotund, tiny or gigantic-all will make a successful jack-o-lantern. Just be sure to check that the chosen pumpkin is sound, with no soft spots that indicate bruising; bruised pumpkins will rot far more quickly than healthy ones.

Don't be in too much of a rush to do your carving. Since many pumpkins will only last a few days once carved, try to carve your jack-o-lantern fairly close to Halloween. If you buy it early, let the kids decorate it with wax crayons; they can design an appropriate face that will later serve as a template for cutting.

Carving the Pumpkin
The best place to do the carving is on the kitchen floor or at a sturdy table with a thick layer of newspapers spread out to contain the resulting mess. Almost any knife could be used, but for safety's sake we'd urge you to pick up an inexpensive set of pumpkin-carving tools at the local discount store. It includes a little saw that's much less likely to cut children's fingers, and the tools are narrow, which gives the added benefit of being able to make more precise cuts. Young children shouldn't cut at all and should stick to designing the face or drawing on the face so you can cut it out for them.

Start by cutting out the lid of the jack-o-lantern. You want to be able to lift it off in one piece, and you want to be able to put it back in place later without having it fall through the hole you've made. Cut at an inward angle all around in order to provide a lip for the lid to sit on, and make sure that the opening is large enough to get your hand inside.

Now comes the gooey part that kids will love: Scoop out the insides to clear away the pulp and seeds. Put a big bowl next to the pumpkin, reach in, grab a handful of pumpkin glop and dump it in the bowl. Later, kids can sort out the pumpkin seeds, and you can dry them in the oven as a traditional snack food.

When as much of the innards and seeds have been removed by hand as possible, you'll still need to clean the inside a bit more. Hand each child a big serving or table spoon, and tell them to scrape around and around the insides to get rid of all the remaining wet pulp and seeds. You can then take a final few scoops yourself to clean out the pumpkin completely.

Next, use the little saw to cut out the features. The expression you choose is simply a matter of taste. If they haven't already drawn eyes, a nose and a mouth on the pumpkin itself, your children may want to draw their ideas out on paper first to see what looks best. Spontaneity is great, but sometimes young sculptors will carve the mouth before remembering that they wanted to put in teeth. Try to have the cuts for the features somewhat perpendicular to the skin of the pumpkin so that the openings will go all the way through.

Once the carving is complete, the jack-o-lantern is ready to be put on display on the doorstep when trick-or-treaters are about. You can consider it finished, or you can go one step further and illuminate it internally.

Lighting Up Your Jack-o-Lantern
You can put a flashlight inside, pointed, if room allows, at the back wall of the jack-o-lantern; the reflected light will shine out evenly through the facial openings. The more traditional approach, however, is to use a candle for a jack-o-lantern light.

With a flame, of course, safety is always a consideration, so establish the ground rules: Only an adult may light it or handle it, the jack-o-lantern must be kept far away from costumes, curtains, other Halloween decorations, etc., and it must be placed in a spot where it won't accidentally get kicked or knocked over.

Most candles won't sit upright at the bottom of a pumpkin, but it's easy enough to mount one in place by using a paperclip. Bend one end of the clip up at a 90-degree angle and bend the other end down at a 90-degree angle.

Now you have a point projecting up to hold the candle and a point projecting down to stick into the pumpkin's bottom. To mount the candle on the paperclip, hold the wire point over a match flame for a few seconds, and it will slide right into the wax. Once it's in, you can push the whole rig into the jack-o-lantern and it will stay in place. To light, tip the pumpkin toward you when you reach in with the match, and the flame won't sear your fingers.

An even better option is to cut a hole out of the bottom of the jack-o-lantern. Then, set a candle with a sturdy base on the ground, and set the pumpkin over it.

Here's a trick that will let the candle burn inside without scorching and eventually burning the jack-o-lantern itself: Put the candle a little to the back of the bottom's center, and then cut out a chimney hole about 2 inches square in the lid of the jack-o-lantern right above the candle. This lets the hot air rise straight up out of the jack-o-lantern without drying and burning it, and the jack-o-lantern will still look complete with its cover in place.

Article provided by Homesteader

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