Make it Monday | Making Fun with Pumpkins, part 1

Whether you like Halloween or not, pumpkins are a mainstay of Fall decorations, food choices, and all-around-fun. Pumpkins come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. From adorable baby pumpkins, to flat, white pumpkins, to humongous, award-winning pumpkins. Some are better for decoration and others for baking. Depending on your preferred way of expressing creativity, Pumpkins provide all the options.

With so many pumpkin possibilities, we’ll take two weeks to talk about them. This week, we’re going to explore ideas about fresh pumpkins. Next week we’ll turn to more eatable ideas. As always, the goal of these posts is to spur creative ideas that will allow you to rejuvenate your spirit. And what better way to do that than in conjunction with the seasons.

Finding Pumpkins

Pumpkins can be found in many different places. We’ve tried growing pumpkins the past couple years with minimal success. I’m not known for my green thumb, so it’s a steep learning curve for me. Last year we grew one huge pumpkin. This year we managed a handful of baby pumpkins. The small ones were much more satisfying to grow, but still not the easiest crop to come by.

Perhaps more fun would be to visit a pumpkin patch where this orange squash is grown by professional farmers. Wandering through the browned vines to find the perfect pumpkin not only gets you outside in nature, but also let’s you appreciate where these fruits come from.

Alternitively, some pumpkin farms pick their pumpkins, allowing customers to shop amid the already-harvested ones. As an adult, this has been the main way I have purchased my pumpkins. It gives the best of all worlds as it lets me pick the pumpkins I want, knowing exactly the price (since pumpkins are often sold by size), and without having to wonder whether a pumpkin is ready for picking.

Some farmers bring their pumpkins to farmer’s markets or farm stands. This is another great way to support local farmers while also choosing a perfect pumpkin. Grocery stores also sell pumpkins, though whether these are local or not is dependent on the store.

Picking Pumpkins

Choosing which pumpkin or pumpkins to get depends on what you plan to do with them. Are they entirely for decoration or for baking? Do you plan to carve them or paint them? So many options when it comes to pumpkins!

It is nearly impossible for me to pass up baby pumpkins and little gourds. They are so adorable I want to buy a bushel of them! These also make great decorations. Whether on their own, placed in a basket, or further decorated with various craft supplies, baby pumpkins are the best.

When picking a carving pumpkin, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, the stem. To take off the top, you need a stem you can grab. If the stem will be part of the carving, then the stem must match what you have in mind. You also want to make sure the shape is right. A smooth face or a perfectly round middle. A flat bottom for a well-balanced pumpkin. Even whether you want to make use of a ‘warty’ pumpkin, you know, the ones with the little bumps all over them.

Lastly, if you plan to bake with your pumpkin, picking a fresh, ripe pumpkin is of most importance. According to The Spruce, good cooking pumpkins are between 4-8 pounds because they have denser flesh. You can also tell which is a baking pumpkin based on it’s name. Some are actually called ‘pie pumpkins.’

Crafting Pumpkins

Before pulling out the knife to carve up a pumpkin, here are a few ideas for what to do with a whole pumpkin.

First, a kid-friendly activity is to decorate a small or medium pumpkin with markers and crafty supplies. Those supplies could include googly eyes, pipe-cleaners, and, of course, glitter. Young crafters and the incredibly artistic can turn a simple pumpkin into a masterpiece. This is especially true for artists who can use paint to turn a pumpkin into a piece of art.

Another activity good for little hands is pumpkin stamping. In this case, you can use a small pumpkin like a rubber stamp. Apply paint to the bottom of the pumpkin and then press it to a blank piece of paper. Once the paint dries, children can use crayons or markers to add stems and other decorations to complete their picture.

Lastly, and I alluded to this idea earlier, you can use the pumpkins or gourds as decoration on your mantel, front porch, or in a basket. Making a cornucopia is another fun centerpiece idea, especially with Thanksgiving coming soon. You can use plain pumpkins or decorated ones, simple orange pumpkins or the multi-colored ones. The variety adds creativity to whichever craft you decide to do.

Carving Pumpkins

This is one of my favorite activities to do with a pumpkin. Of course it is also a rather dangerous one. While children can help draw a face on the pumpkin, adults should be the only ones to handle the cutting tools.

The concept of carved pumpkins, also known as Jack-O-Lanterns, originated in Ireland. A guy named Jack tricked the Devil and when it backfired, Jack’s spirit was destined to wander the earth. The legend of Stingy Jack morphed into families carving scary faces into root vegetables to keep unsavory spirits from visiting their house. When the tradition arrived in the United States, pumpkins became the preferred lantern.

From legend to family fun, carving pumpkins has gone from simply cutting out two triangles for eyes and a scary grin to using patterns to create elaborate Jack-O-Lantern carvings. Craft stores will have tools to make those elaborate carvings easier. One of my favorite tools is the poker. Using it to make small dots can serve as both an outline to know where to cut as well as an end to itself. The outline the dots create can glow in a beautiful pattern when lit from inside.

Before you get to this point, however, you have to prep the pumpkin. To do this, you’ll need to carve a hole. Traditionally, this is carved around the stem since that serves as the top of the pumpkin. But if the stem is used as part of the pumpkin, such as the nose, then carving the hole in a different spot is advisable.

Once you have a hole carved, it’s time to dig out the innards. This is a great task to do with kids. It’s gooey and messy and a perfect sensory experience. Doing this task over newspaper will aid in quicker clean up and using a spoon will help you scrape the insides clean. This last is an important step. Making sure to get all the stringy inside will help avoid additional fire hazard if using a candle to light the jack-o-lantern.

After you have the innards cleaned out, you get to flex your creativity with carving. One note about lighting the pumpkin. As I mentioned earlier, there is a fire hazard with using a candle inside a pumpkin. My recommendation is to use a battery-powered tea light. They are safer and provide a similar effect, especially if you get the flickering kind.

Pumpkin Seeds

You know that mess you cleaned out of the pumpkin? While you do the dangerous job of carving, your child(ren) can sort through the goop to pick out all the seeds so you can roast them. Some may wash the seeds once they’re cleaned out, but I like a little pumpkin flavor on my seeds.

Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a cookie sheet with foil. Spread the seeds in a single layer over the foil and salt to taste. Then slide them into the preheated oven.

The length of time seeds need to fully roast is dependent on the batch. Generally speaking it will probably take between 20-45 minutes (mine took 30 minutes this weekend). The important part is to stir them every 5-10 minutes. This keeps them from sticking and provides an even roast. You’ll know the seeds are done when they turn a golden brown.

In Conclusion

Pumpkins are great fun and make excellent decorations. Be sure to watch them, though, since they will eventually rot and a mushy-bottomed pumpkin is a bear to finagle into a garbage bag. Before that happens, enjoy the myriad of ways to use pumpkins to decorate for Fall, October, and Halloween.

Comment below with your favorite way to decorate a pumpkin for the season.

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