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Pumpkin-Carving Skills that Will Make Any Porch Proud

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Orange may be the color of the season, but it’s pretty easy to turn green with envy when you spot your neighbor’s fantastically carved jack-o’-lanterns. Their creative designs practically mock you from across the street, and it’s just not fair how perfect that mini pumpkin patch of scary faces looks on their porch.

Well, give the Joneses something to covet this weekend, and carve out a new Halloween tradition for your family without breaking the bank or losing any fingers. Learn how to carve a pumpkin like a pro and master a few secret shortcuts along the way, courtesy of Shelley Wolson, the author of “Budget Celebrations” (Filipacchi Publishing, 2009).

The Joneses won’t know what hit them.

1. Pick a pumpkin that’s fresh and ready to last; avoid the ones with soft spots and nicks. Choose a pumpkin with smooth skin, rather than deep ridges, to make it easier to apply the pattern – more bumps equals more hassle.

2. Cut a circular lid into the pumpkin by carving a wide circle around the stem. Make sure it’s at least big enough to put your fist through. Next, pull out as many seeds and stringy goo as you can by hand, then use a pumpkin or ice cream scoop to scrape the inside clean.

3. Use the flattest side of the pumpkin, even if it’s the ugly side, for your design. This will make the carving process easier, and it won’t show at night when lit.

4. Tape or pin the pattern onto your pumpkin (make sure the surface is dry so the tape will stick). Use a pumpkin poking tool, awl or nail to poke small, shallow holes through the paper, following the lines of the pattern. When all lines have been traced, remove pattern and save it for reference later.

5. Rip several tears about 3 inches apart all around the outside of the pattern before taping it down, if you’re having trouble attaching the pattern. This will help you shape the paper to the pumpkin’s rounded shape.

6. Poke the holes about 1/4-inch apart – and even closer on complicated spots – after applying the patterns. The holes only need to just pierce the skin, or about 1⁄8-inch deep.

7. Rub flour, cornstarch or baby powder into the dots to make them stand out if you can’t see the poked-out pattern.

8. Insert a carving saw (never use a knife) into a poked line. Always keep your noncarving hand away from the blade. Begin sawing out each section. Remember, saws don’t twist and pumpkins don’t give. To prevent your saw from breaking, saw curved areas carefully, gently turning the saw in the direction you wish to go while you continue to remove sections.

9. Hold your saw like a pencil and insert it at a 90-degree angle to the pumpkin’s surface for a simple pattern.

10. Start with the smallest parts when carving. Carve the areas in the center of the pattern, then work your way out to the edges. Never rest your hand on a carved section; it might break.

11. Forget the top lid and carve an opening in the bottom if you’re using a candle. Light the candle, then lower the pumpkin over it.

Courtesy of “Budget Celebrations” (Filipacchi Publishing, 2009)

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