Old School Jack O' Lantern

Making a Jack O’ Lantern (Old School)

At this time of year when Sparkfun, AdaFruit, and Arduino tweets are filled with high-tech Jack O’ Lanterns, I thought I’d document the making of an Old School Jack O’ Lantern.

Pick a pleasing pumpkin. Put in on a paper
Pick a pleasing pumpkin. Put in on a paper

First, find an appealing pumpkin. I used to go for really big ones, then weird shaped ones, but this year I decided to choose a more traditional, big-as-a-head pumpkin for our Jack O’ Lantern.

Lay down yesterday’s newspaper to keep the counter clean. Really Old School carvers use sharp blades; instead I’m going with this safe-for-kids pumpkin saw.

Cut the lid at a sharp angle
Cut the lid at a sharp angle

Cut the lid so that 1) it’s big enough to pull the pumpkin guts out of, 2) it’s big enough so that you can easily put the lit candle inside, 3) it’s asymmetric enough that you can easily put the lid back on,  4) the angle of the cut is sharp enough that the lid won’t wobble or fall in, and 5) it leaves a good sized space for the Jack O’ Lantern face.

Thin the lid with a bread knife
Thin the lid with a bread knife

Carefully cut the base of the lid away from the lid with a bread knife. Now you can see all the pumpkin guts inside the pumpkin.

Plunge your hand into the pumpkin
Plunge your hand into the pumpkin

Now remove as much of the pumpkin guts and seeds as you can, using your bare hand. This is the gooey, slimey, Halloween part. I probably should have rolled up my sleeve. Place the seeds and guts on a plate because we’ll roast the pumpkin seeds later.

Scoop out the rest of the pumpkin guts
Scoop out the rest of the pumpkin guts

Use a large spoon to scrape the inside of the pumpkin clean of pumpkin guts. Put these guts-without-seeds on a different plate – we’ll compost them. Scrape the bottom of the pumpkin so that there’s a nice flat space for the candle.

Pulling out the last of the pumpkin guts
Pulling out the last of the pumpkin guts
Your clean pumpkin, ready to carve
Your clean pumpkin, ready to carve

Now your pumpkin should be smooth inside, and free of pumpkin guts and seeds. You’re ready to start carving!

Start cutting out the first eye
Start cutting out the first eye

This is the artistic bit. I like to freehand cut as I go, so I can change my mind mid-way. Some people pencil in the face using a permanent marker. Start cutting the left eye. Since this is a traditional Jack O’ Lantern, the eyes and nose will be triangles. Personally I like to put pupils (uncut circles) in the Lantern’s eyes.

Plucking out the left eye
Plucking out the left eye

Pull out the cut bits as you go. Make sure to “flange” the cuts so the eye is larger inside the Lantern than outside. This type of cut makes the lighted Lantern face look the way you want it no matter where the person viewing the Lantern is. If you don’t flange the cuts, the thick walls of the pumpkin can block the features of the face.

Starting to cut the nose
Starting to cut the nose

Cut the second eye like the first. In years past I’ve cut the pupils so the Lantern is looking to the left or the right. This year, they’re sort of looking straight ahead.

The traditional nose is a triangle. Mine’s a little sloping this year, which gives the Lantern a bit of a smirk.

Starting to cut the mouth and teeth
Starting to cut the mouth and teeth

One traditional Lantern mouth is an open smile with one big upper tooth to the side. I like a few more teeth, so this year’s Lantern has 3 teeth.

The carved Jack O' Lantern
The carved Jack O’ Lantern

Now we have the carved lantern, the seeds to roast later, and the guts to compost.

Separating the seeds from the guts
Separating the seeds from the guts

To roast the pumpkin seeds, first separate the seeds from the pumpkin guts.

Salting the seeds
Salting the seeds

Put the seeds in a bowl. Cover with salt and water. Set aside for 24 hours. Or follow a recipe you like.

Boo!
Boo!

Meanwhile, light a votive candle and place the lighted candle (carefully) into the finished Jack O’ Lantern. I’m always torn about how to light the Lantern: years ago I’d put a dinner-table candle in the Lantern and light it with a long match. I’ve also used a butane grill lighter (with a long neck) to light the candle inside the Lantern.  Lately, I just light a votive candle and quickly pop the lighted candle into the Lantern.

Happy Halloween!