Carving a pumpkin is a classic fall activity for a reason — the kids in our lives love it, the spooky face creates the perfect ambiance, and roasted pumpkin seeds make for a delicious (and very healthy) snack. However: If you’re deterred by the back-breaking carving process, we don’t blame you. As it turns out, there are a lot of tricks to make pumpkin carving a whole lot easier this year. From selecting a boo-tiful pumpkin to creating a ghoulish masterpiece, our experts share the secrets to displaying a gorgeous gourd.
Pick the best specimen with the color test.
When it comes to choosing the freshest pumpkin, the brighter its hue, the better, says McDonald. “Avoid picking pumpkins with pale, dried stems, which signal they’re past their prime, and look for ones with a deeper orange color and a bright-green stem.” Also smart: To ensure the gourd is ripe, tap it and listen for a deep, hollow sound.
Hollow it out with this tool.
To easily scoop out the “goop,” grab a large spoon or ladle with a serrated edge, advises McDonald. “Scrape the sides to remove the pulp, leaving a smooth shell about to one-inch thick.” Also smart? Once you open up the pumpkin, whisk the innards with an electric whisk. The whisk breaks up most of the stringy insides and detaches them from the pumpkin walls, making it a lot easier to scoop out.
Saving the seeds? Don’t worry — the whisk doesn’t break up the seeds. Focus on whisking up against the pumpkin walls and you should be fine.
Don’t waste time picking the seeds apart from pumpkin string.
Want to preserve the seeds? Toss the pumpkin “guts” into a large bowl of water. The moisture will help separate the stringy stuff from the seeds, allowing you to roast up the perfect Halloween snack.
Also smart: Spread the guts and pumpkin seeds out on paper towels and let air dry. Once the moisture evaporates, the seeds will be much easier to pick out.
Make the perfect face with cookie cutters.
No need to be an artist to create a doorstep gem. To ensure a symmetrical face, simply pick up a few cookie cutters, advises carving champion Jen McDonald (GardenGirlsTX.com). “Just use a hammer to gently tap the cutter through the rind for a perfect shape every time — there are so many fun designs you can make easily.”
(Looking for fun design ideas? Check out our downloadable stencils.)
Get a gourd glowing with holiday lights.
It’s easy to infuse your jack-o’-lantern with a spooky glow without the mess and potential danger of candles, assures McDonald. “Simply tuck battery-operated Christmas lights inside your pumpkin to create a much brighter sparkle than a single candle.”
Extend the life of your jack with a simple swipe.
Keep your pumpkin looking fresh at least a week longer with a little bleach, says Craig Wilson, director at Gardeners Dream. “Once you’ve scraped out the inside, dip a cloth in a solution of equal parts bleach and water, and wipe down the inside of the pumpkin.” The bleach kills bacteria, ensuring your specimen stays in ship-shape.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.