Master pumpkin carver shares tips on carving a Halloween pumpkin
Pick your pumpkin
It’s not too late to pick up a pumpkin for Halloween. Here are a few places around the valley and beyond that still had carving pumpkins for sale as of Wednesday evening.
• City Market in Avon: priced $4.99 and higher, depending on size; call 970-949-5409.
• City Market in Eagle: priced $3.99, $4.99 or $6.99, depending on size; call 970-328-1302.
• City Market in Vail: priced $3.99, $4.99 or $5.99, depending on size; call 970-476-1017.
• Safeway in Vail: priced $4.99; call 970-476-3561.
• Walmart in Avon: priced $10 and higher for large size; call 970-949-6442.
• Whole Foods Market in Basalt: medium size are three for $12; call 970-927-1500.
master pumpkin carver Barry Brown is based in Denver and makes numerous television appearances and guides multiple pumpkin-carving classes every October. Here’s Brown’s five-step guide to enjoying a creative, fun and safe pumpkin carving this season.
1. Pick your pumpkin
Brown said to find a basketball-sized pumpkin that’s relatively light in color, because the darker the pumpkin, the denser the flesh and the harder it is to carve.
“The lighter the pumpkin in color, the more water content it has, and so it’s not as firm,” he said. “So, if you are carving with kids, a lighter pumpkin is the way to go.”
Consider what you want your pumpkin to look like — do you want it to be joyful or spooky?
“If it grows funky, that might be really cool to carve a spooky face on it or something,” Brown said. “So, keep that in mind while you are picking your pumpkin.”
He recommends bringing your drawing or pattern with you to the pumpkin patch or the grocery store so you can find the perfect fit.
2. Dig in
Brown uses Grandpa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set, developed by his friend John Bardeen. The kit is available on Bardeen’s website, http://www.grampa bardeen.com. A cheaper, last-minute option, though not nearly as durable or elegant, is the plastic Pumpkin Masters set available at many grocery stores.
“I recommend using these little pumpkin saws, but I don’t recommend using a knife,” he said, “just because you will be safer and more successful with these little saws.”
Brown doesn’t cut the pumpkin open from the top, but from the bottom.
“I like to have the whole pumpkin available for my art,” he said. “So if I had to cut mine at the top or if the lid was falling in, it would not please me with my art.”
He cuts about a 4-inch circle and uses the scraper scoop from his tool set, which he said makes it possible to clean out the pumpkin in about a minute. Get all the inside scraped, and dump it out in one big pile.
If you want to roast the pumpkin seeds, then pull out the seeds before you start scraping the sides so that you get handfuls and handfuls of seeds to put in the oven for a seasonal snack.
3. Follow your pattern
Create a pattern, or pull one from a kit or from the Internet. Fold the pattern over the pumpkin so that the image conforms to the shape of the round or oblong plant, and then tape the pattern down.
With the poker tool, pierce the paper into the pumpkin skin to make little dots of your pattern. This transfers the art onto your pumpkin. Carefully remove your pattern and save it to refer back to when you are carving.
“Here’s a master tip,” Brown said. “If you can’t see your transfer holes very well, there’s two things you can do: Take a pinch of flour and rub it into the holes to turn the holes white, or little kids can take a pen and do dot-to-dot and draw the pattern onto the pumpkin.”
4. Carve away
When Brown carves, he puts the pumpkin in his lap to keep it from rolling around.
“I want to have the place that I am carving at the North Pole of my pumpkin,” he said. “Like straight up, looking at me in the face, in my lap. This is because when I am sawing the pieces out, I want my saw to go straight up and down, north to south.”
By cutting your pumpkin pieces out with straight cuts, they will come out better. Brown rolls the pumpkin on his lap, according to where he is sawing. Carve from the center of your pattern outward.
To take the pieces out, put your hand inside the pumpkin and take your finger to the piece that you just carved. Wiggle the piece up and down to see if it is carved all the way through.
“If I carefully wiggle it, I can find the places that need to be carved, or the pieces will start to loosen itself,” he said. “And it will either fall into the pumpkin, or out of the pumpkin, but you never want to force it.”
5. Admire your art
Light up your pumpkin with a candle, or for more sustained and safe illumination, use a battery-powered light inside. And because an LED light is not as hot as the flame from a candle, your pumpkin may last longer.
Brown said to keep the pumpkin on a plate, and only display it as long as you enjoy looking at it. Once you are done enjoying it, put the candle out or turn the light off, place plastic over the carving, and keep it in a cool place until you are ready to look at it again.
“Colorado is so dry,” he said. “It instantly dehydrates the pumpkins, but you can keep them fresh and crisp for much longer this way.”
For more information, visit Brown’s website at http://www.barrybrowncreative.com.