A brief history lesson: why do we even carve pumpkins?
Carving scary faces into pumpkins started in Ireland and is related to the Irish folk lore of Stingy Jack. Well in Ireland it was actually turnips that were initially used, pumpkins began to be used by Irish immigrants to America as this was the more common round vegetable. Jack had tricked the devil for money and so when Jack died God did not let him into heaven, and the devil would not let him into hell and so instead Jack’s soul was cursed to walk the earth forever. The scary faces on the pumpkins were used to scare the soul away from the houses. This is where the name Jack-o’-Lantern came from.
The tale of Stingy Jack and pumpkin carving was soon incorporated into Hallows Eve which lands on the 31st October and is believed to be the day that all the souls who had died the previous years crossed from earth to the otherworld. The pumpkins began to be used to make sure no souls came knocking at your door unannounced.
History lesson over, let’s talk carving.
This year I’m going in with a plan and we would suggest for you to do the same. A few safety precautions before you get started: please be careful and take as many precautions as you can as pumpkins can be very tough to cut. Make sure your pumpkin is on a sturdy based and always angle the knife away from you when cutting. If you are doing this with children, we suggest doing the carving for them.
1. The first step is to cut a circle around the stalk large enough for you to be able to fit your hand into the pumpkin.
2. Once you’ve removed this hat, set aside and get ready for the mess of taking out all of the pulp and seeds. Don’t throw the seeds away, keep reading to find out some of the recipes you can make with them. Scoop as much of the gloop out as you can!
3. We also try to scoop out some of the fleshier parts because the thinner you can get the wall of the pumpkin, the easier it will be to carve. We found that reducing the wall to around 2 cm thick worked well.
4. Once properly prepared inside its time to choose your canvas. What side of the pumpkin do you think is most worthy of being carved into?
5. From here the question is whether to go free hand or use a stencil. We would definitely suggest looking up some pumpkin carving inspiration, there are some true masterpieces out there. There are also plenty of stencils that you could print off online, we went for the technique of drawing straight on to the pumpkin using a whiteboard pen.
Again, please be careful when carving out your design. We would suggest a small sharp knife for the carving as they are easier to manage with the details.
6. Once carved place a candle inside (we suggest an electric one for safety purposes), give the pumpkin its hat back, place on your doorstep and know that no ghouls will come knocking at your door.
Top tip: pumpkins can perish quite fast, coat the inside of your pumpkin with lemon juice to help preserve it a little longer.
Pumpkin Seed Recipes
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein and healthy fats. They are also rich in zinc which is great for a healthy immune system.
Remove all of the seeds from the stringy insides of the pumpkin and leave to dry for 24 hours on a kitchen towel.
Once dry, preheat the oven to around 160 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
For savoury seeds:
For the savoury pumpkin seeds, lay the seeds out on the baking parchment and drizzle over about a tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle over the spices, you can get creative here, we used smoked paprika, ground garlic, a good pinch of salt and grind of pepper and a smidge of cumin. The quantities of which very much depend on the strength of flavour you want. We did about a tsp of all with an extra grind of pepper.
Mix the seeds together so they are evenly covered and spread them out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Bake in the over for 10-15 minutes until they start to brown and done! Use on top of salads or even use as crotons in soup.
For sweet seeds:
For the sweet pumpkin seeds, melt about 2 tbsps. of butter, a tbsp of sugar and 2 tsps. of cinnamon over a low heat. Once the mixture starts to froth, pour it evenly over the seeds, again in a single layer.
These seeds take longer to cook in the oven, around 30-40 minutes but keep an eye on them, so as to make sure they don’t burn and come out a toasty brown colour. Sprinkle the seeds over your porridge in the morning or even as a sweet snack (they taste a lot like popcorn).
There are also great recipes out there that use the fleshy parts of the pumpkin. We love the look of this Pumpkin & Chickpea Curry from Jamie Oliver and this Leon Restaurant Pumpkin Salad Recipe on their instagram. If in doubt you can always make soup!