When October comes around each year, I know I’m in for a treat. Because just around the corner is Halloween and my favorite; Halloween pumpkins. So in this article, I’m answering questions about the types of pumpkins used for carving scary faces, how to carve a Halloween pumpkin, and pumpkin decorating ideas you can try. I’m also looking at whether you can eat your Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin (and if so, should you?). Read on to find out more.
Types of Pumpkins Used for Halloween Pumpkin Carving
Traditionally, there are three popular varieties of pumpkins used to carve scary faces and frighten children around the neighborhood.
Jack O’Lantern Pumpkins, Howden Pumpkins and Connecticut Field Pumpkins. These days Howden Pumpkins are often sold in grocery stores for larger carving pumpkins while the others come in a little smaller.
Here are the differences:
Jack-O’-Lantern pumpkins are a popular variety of pumpkin used for Halloween Pumpkin carving. They are an heirloom variety with thinner walls than other vanities, which makes them easier to carve. They also grow to a nice medium round size of around 11-15 lbs (5-7 kg) with smooth orange skin.
Howden Pumpkins were developed in the 1960’s to produce a larger 20-30 lbs (9-14 kg) pumpkin, especially for Halloween carving. These pumpkins are the variety you’ll most likely find in grocery stores for Halloween pumpkin carving.
Connecticut Field Pumpkins were the first Jack O’Lanterns in North America. They are an heirloom variety grown before colonization. These pumpkins weigh in at around 15-20 lbs (7-9 kg).
Other varieties you might find for carving include Captain Jack and Autumn Gold among others.
Generally, carving pumpkins are selected for their flatter base to allow them to stand on their own, along with thinner walls to allow for easier carving. Thinner walls also light up well with the addition of a candle or tealight.
Along with the above-mentioned pumpkins, white vanities are increasingly popular, such as Lumina. And smaller white pumpkins such as Baby Boo and Casper are desirable for simply standing alone or in a group as decoration. White pumpkins are easy to decorate and paint.
When to Carve a Pumpkin?
You might be wondering how far in advance you can carve out your Halloween pumpkin. It’s tempting to carve out your pumpkin as early as possible so you can leave out your creative spooky masterpiece for all the neighborhood to enjoy.
Generally, fresh is best. If you can hold on to your creative pumpkin carving aspirations until a day or two before you intend to display your Halloween pumpkin, your Jack O’Lartern will enjoy its time in the spotlight with full health.
So carve your Halloween pumpkin a few days before you intend to display it. And no earlier than three days before showtime or else you risk the chance of your pumpkin scaring the neighbors with its decay!
How Long Do Carved Halloween Pumpkins Last?
The longevity of your carved pumpkin comes down to temperature. In warm weather, your Halloween pumpkin can last up to 5 days. And in cooler weather Halloween pumpkins can last up to two weeks.
These are maximum estimates and in unfavorable conditions, your carved jack o’lantern pumpkin will deteriorate faster.
Carved pumpkins should not be left out in warm weather and do best in temperatures around 55°F (12°C).
How to Carve a Jack O’Lantern Halloween Pumpkin
- Using a pencil, pen or texta, draw a circle around the top of the pumpkin to create your lid. Consider including a notable square notch at the back of the pumpkin top. The notch will allow you to easily line the pumpkin lid back in position later. You will be curving the top at a slight angle from the outside, towards the inside, which will help the lid stay in place.
- Using a knife (from your pumpkin carving kit if you have one, see below), start by carving the notch and then the rest of the lid.
- Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and any loose pumpkin flesh that’s easily scrapped away from the walls.
- Using a stencil or a design you’ve hand drawn, mark out the design on your pumpkin. If using paper, you can stick it down with tape directly on the pumpkin and poke small holes along the design so they’re visible on the pumpkin as a cutting guide.
- Start in the middle of your pumpkin design and work your way out. For example, if you are carving a face with a nose, start there. Slowly and carefully cut out your design. Generally, a sawing motion works best. Larger areas can be carved out in sections, instead of one piece. Such as a spooky smile.
- Place your tealight inside your carved pumpkin (you can use tongs if your hand doesn’t fit) and pop on your lid. Display with pride.
Pumpkin Decorating Ideas – No Carving Required
If you find carving pumpkins messy. Time intensive. And you have to turn away in quiet fear while your husband helps your kids save their fingers and carve the pumpkin. Then you might be looking for decorating ideas beyond carving pumpkins. So I’ve listed a few non-spooky ideas below that mainly involve paint. Still messy but no fingers will be harmed in the process.
Bat Pumpkins – from Glue Sticks and Gum Drops. A simple craft activity that’s kid-friendly using small pumpkins. With the addition of black paint, googly eyes and craft paper, these cute bats are a great no-carve pumpkin decorating idea.
Black Cat Mini Pumpkins – from The Crazy Craft Lady. Another Halloween craft that is kid-friendly, these small pumpkins are easy to decorate and look super cute. Paint, two paint pens, along with craft paper and hot glue will result in three different cat-inspired pumpkins.
Pumpkin Unicorn Witch – from Hello Wonderful. Unicorn fans will love these sweet unicorn witches. Made with glitter paper, paint, felt, craft flowers and hot glue.
Spider Web Pumpkin – from The Suburban Mom. This craft uses hot glue to cleverly create a spider web which is then painted silver. An easy and sweet non-carve pumpkin craft perfect for celebrating Halloween.
Can You Eat Halloween Pumpkins?
Yes, you can eat Halloween pumpkins. Jack O Lantern pumpkins are delicious in stews, pies and soups. Though Howden pumpkins are not as flavorsome. Howden pumpkins have been specially bred for Halloween carving with their larger size and thinner skin.
But if you’ll be scaring your neighbors and decorating your porch, you might not actually want to eat the pumpkin you’ve carved. If the pumpkin has been sitting outside for days it’s not a good idea to eat them as they’ll have been exposed to bacteria and other contaminants.
Instead, you can add the pumpkin remains to your compost bin when you’re done enjoying your master creation.
You could also save some pumpkin seeds for growing yourself. Check out our guide to growing pumpkins.
For saving pumpkin seed, collect the fresh seed and separate them from any stringy bits of pumpkin and run them under water to remove any pumpkin pulp. You can use a colander for this. Then allow the pumpkin seeds to air dry on either a tray, a plate or even waxed paper. Once the seeds are nicely dried out you can save the seeds in envelopes and keep them in a cool dry place out of sunlight.
How to Eat Jack O’Lantern Pumpkins
As you’re carving your Halloween pumpkin, you can definitely save and eat the fresh off-cuts from your pumpkin and add them to a dish.
For example, if you are scooping out additional pumpkin flesh (guts) from your pumpkin, this can be eaten. Scooped pumpkin flesh can be made into pumpkin puree.
Pumpkin seeds can also be saved and eaten. Simply pop them onto a lined baking tray, salt them and place them into a hot oven at 350°F (180°C) for 10 minutes. Give them a mix halfway through the cooking process to evenly toast them.
It’s worth considering that leftover Halloween pumpkin recipes call for a lot of flavor additions such as spices, sugar, and so on. This is because the pumpkin itself needs a flavor boost. As noted earlier, Halloween pumpkins are not bred for eating. And although they are edible, they lack the flavor that comes from pumpkins that are usually eaten.
However, there are exceptions and this recipe for Pumpkin Gut Bread from Eating Richly was inspired by the scooped-out Halloween pumpkin guts and turned into a delicious sweet spiced pumpkin bread. This recipe has become a big hit and is well worth making from your leftover Halloween pumpkins.