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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Create Your Family’s Best-Ever Pumpkin

By Katy M. Clark

It’s pumpkin time! How can you make sure you pick the perfect pumpkin and transform it into a boo-tiful jack-o’-lantern? Check out these handy tips.

Fresh Is Best The best selection at your local pumpkin patch will probably be available in early October. Of course, selecting your gourd at the grocery store is convenient any time. My kids have found some of their biggest, best pumpkins at the local store.

No matter where you go, look for smooth pumpkins with no soft spots, which indicate rot. It is also ideal to find one with a green stem, which means that the pumpkin has been freshly picked.

Try not to let your kids pick up the pumpkin by the stem. If the stem breaks off, it could take some of the outer pumpkin with it, making the inside rot faster.

Once you get your prized pumpkin home, store it in a cool, dry spot. Aim to carve it just a few days before Halloween. This will ensure that it does not decay too fast (boo, black spots!) and looks frightfully good on the big night.

Get Ready for a Mess If you are lucky enough to set up a carving station outside, go for it! The mess from making a jack-o’-lantern is easier to handle on your patio or in your backyard than inside.

Never fear, though. Carving can be done indoors or out, especially with a well-prepared station. To make cleanup easier, go old school and line your tabletop with newspaper, or cut open a plastic trash bag and spread it over your surface. You will want to clean up quickly afterwards, too, since pumpkin flesh and seeds are super slippery.

Make It Boo-tiful Have you ever seen a jack-o’-lantern with black lines on its face? I know when my family uses permanent markers to sketch our design, we are usually left with a couple mistakes that we must live with or cut out. Here’s a tip I wish I knew years ago: Try sketching your lines with a dry erase marker, instead. Yes, dry-erase marks are erasable even on pumpkins! Or use a template that you can attach directly to the pumpkin.

When it’s time to cut into your pumpkin, let adults take on the task; little ones should not handle anything sharp. Instead, let kids scrape out the seeds with big spoons or ice cream scoops. Save the seeds if you want to toast them later (more on that below).

Grown-ups, your goal should be to cut with short, controlled motions. Don’t forget to go slow! It’s not a race and you definitely want to avoid a serious hand injury.

Go for Glitter Another useful tip is to give kids their own small pumpkin to decorate with glitter and glue or foam stickers while you carve the family’s bigger pumpkin. That way they will stay engaged and not lose interest.

If carving is more trick than treat for your family, then you can always paint your pumpkin, instead. Note that you may need several coats to get the desired color and it can take a while for the paint to dry between coats.

Soak Seeds If you want to roast the seeds later, soak them in a big bowl of warm water. To separate the seeds from the goo, use your hands to swirl them around, and then let them sit for at least five minutes. The goo will sink to the bottom while the seeds float to the top. Once dry, your seeds will be ready for whatever sweet or savory recipe you find on the Internet. Enjoy! 

Katy M. Clark is a writer and mom of two who celebrates her imperfections on her blog