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Hot tips for picking pumpkins, carving creatively

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 12, 2007

Hack saw or butter knife?


Power drill or screwdriver?


Yes, it’s that time of year, when tiny tots and their parents are picking weapons for the annual pumpkin carving.


When I was a girl, we were happy with triangle eyes and block-shaped teeth. In those idyllic, pre-Martha Stewart days, it was OK just to have one pumpkin on your porch. You didn’t have to have a display with gourds, hay bales and pumpkins that looked like they were carved by Michelangelo.


These days, the pumpkin-carving ante has been upped considerably. People use patterns; they buy special tools, and big box stores sell pumpkin-specific carving tools.


But do the new tools work better than mom’s best carving knife?


Unfortunately, the answer is yes. It’s a blow for the childhood-was-better-in-the-old days types like me, but it means great things for today’s carvers.


For my carving experiment, I bought a $6 kit with patterns and a $7 battery-operated pumpkin-carving saw at a local big box store.


I looked at, but didn’t buy the absurd mechanical gadget that claimed it would remove the inside guts of a pumpkin with ease. I’m not that much of a sap.


The kit included a variety of small saws, two wide, gut-removal scoops, and a small assortment of tools for marking patterns.


At my editor’s urging, I also bought a drywall saw.


Here’s the verdict: The gut scoops work better and faster than a spoon. The small saws are crucial if you want to do a detailed design.


The dry-wall saw works well for cutting the lid, but not significantly better that a sharp chef’s knife.


And as much as I hate to admit it, the battery-operated saw worked pretty well.


The key is to let the saw do the work—don’t try to drag it through the pumpkin like you would a knife. Also, before starting the saw, insert the tip securely into the pumpkin’s flesh.


If you don’t, the blunt saw tip tends to bounce around on the surface of the pumpkin.


The saw had a few drawbacks: The saw blade is too short to go all the way through the thick skin of some pumpkins.


One way around this it to do a second pass through with the saw, jamming the short plastic guide into the cut you’ve already made. If that’s still not far enough, run a steak knife inside of the cut you’ve already made.


Don’t try to take the blade around corners, as it bends easily.


Obviously, the saw requires careful parental supervision—but so do all carving tools. Kids have been known to cut off a finger with a dull butter knife.


The patterns were easy to use but an annoyance to someone like me who resents new-fangled ideas that take away from the creative pleasures of childhood. I’d rather have a primitive pumpkin carved from a child’s imagination than patterned perfection.


Get yourself a good gourd


Heavy rains in August were hard on pumpkin crops, but Rock and Walworth county residents still have plenty of choices.


Skelly’s Farm Market, 2713 Hayner Road, grows dozens of varieties of pumpkins including “Cinderella” pumpkins, which are almost red; white pumpkins’ a “longhorn cheese” pumpkin that looks like a wheel of cheese, and a “Pokemon” pumpkin. Many of the specialty pumpkins are in short supply, but the fields and lots are still full of orange pumpkins of all sizes and gourds galore, said Cheryl Skelly, co-owner.


Tom and Cheryl Skelly offered these tips for finding and caring for your pumpkins:


-- Look for a pumpkin that’s free of soft spots.


-- Get one with the stem still attached.


-- Wash your pumpkin off with bleach water. About a teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water is enough. Bleach will kill mold or spores that might make the pumpkin deteriorate faster.


-- Store your pumpkin in a cool place. A pumpkin can handle a bit of frost.


-- A pumpkin will last 3 to 5 days after it’s carved, depending on the temperature. As soon as the insides are exposed to air, the flesh and skin starts to shrivel.


Suggestions from the pros

Want tips and ideas from a pumpkin carving pro? Visit www.extremepumpkins.com.


Tom Nardone has created some of the most imaginative pumpkins out there using power tools such as jigsaws, routers and drills. The site also features photos, carving, lighting and decapitating tips.


And check out the garbage can “candy trap.” It’s easy to make and designed to scare the pants off of the most hardened 7-year-old.


Show us your carvings

The Gazette wants to see your pumpkin carving masterpieces.


Please send photos by Wednesday, Oct. 24, to newsroom@gazetteextra.com and put “pumpkins” in the subject line. Or, send them by mail to Pumpkin Carving, c/o Catherine Idzerda, Janesville Gazette, P.O. Box 5001, Janesville, WI 53547.


Please include name and phone number. Phone numbers will not be published.


Using all of the pumpkin

What should you do with those pumpkin seeds?


Cheryl Skelly of Skelly’s Farm Market recommends rinsing them off and letting them dry on the counter. Then, toss them with melted butter and spices and let them cook at about 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes—or until they’re brown and toasty.


Some people like to toss them with pumpkin pie spice, others like them with just salt.


Can you make pie with your Halloween pumpkin?


It’s better to buy pie pumpkins. Pie pumpkins are a sweeter variety than standard pumpkins, explained Brett Condon, co-owner of Morning Star Farm, 4737 County T, Brodhead.


Ripe pie pumpkins have a deep orange color, Condon said.



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