Halloween is on the horizon, which officially makes it pumpkin season. Whether you want to carve jack o’ lanterns or would like to create displays using whole pumpkins, doing it the right way is essential. Fortunately, the process is simple (and safe) if you use the correct approach. With that in mind, here are our top pumpkin tips for Halloween.
The History of the Jack O’ Lantern
The story of the jack o’ lantern is incredibly intriguing. It originated in Ireland, though the original “pumpkins” were actually potatoes and turnips.
Much of the tradition is based on the story of Stingy Jack, an Irish folktale. The legend of Stingy Jack is about a man who invited the Devil for a drink, though Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his beverages. He convinced the Devil to shapeshift into a coin Stingy Jack could use to cover the cost.
However, Stingy Jack decided to keep the cash, placing it in a pocket near a silver cross, keeping the Devil from returning to his original form. Eventually, Stingy Jack did allow the Devil to transform, under the condition that the Devil wouldn’t bother him for a year and wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul upon his passing.
According to the Stingy Jack legend, the Devil returned the next year, and Stingy Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to retrieve some fruit. Once in the tree, Jack trapped the Devil by carving a cross into the bark, forcing the Devil to strike another deal to get down. The Devil promised not to bother Jack for ten years, but Stingy Jack soon passed away.
Based on his actions, Stingy Jack’s soul wasn’t welcomed into Heaven but also wasn’t claimed by the Devil. Instead, the Devil sent Jack off with burning coal to light his way, which he put in a carved turnip to serve as a lantern as he roamed.
Moving forward, people began carving potatoes and turnips to ward off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. Ultimately, that tradition continues.
Our Top Pumpkin Tips for Halloween
Cut Pumpkins Safely
Carving pumpkins is a tradition for many households, but it’s not without risks. If you want a safe Halloween season, start by choosing the right location to prepare your pumpkin for carving. The seeds and pulp can be incredibly slick, so you may want to dig it out on a table outside on your lawn instead of a potentially slippery floor.
Before you start carving, draw the pattern you want to use and outline the shape for your lid. Wear cut-proof gloves for a better grip and some protection. When you cut the lid, keep the knife at a 45° angle to make sure the lid won’t fall inside.
Go slowly, ensuring the sharp part of the blade is pointed away from your body. Additionally, score the design repeatedly instead of sawing with the knife or using a series of careful jabs, reducing your odds of injury.
You can also skip the carving altogether if you prefer. You can use large and small pumpkin varieties to create a display, either leaving the pumpkins undecorated or using markers and paint to create the faces. The fun part of this option is that you can use different colors of pumpkins to mix things up, as well as unique textures. Remember, not all pumpkins are orange and smooth, so select a variety for a great display that can carry you deeper into fall.
Choose the Right Lights
Traditionally, jack o’ lanterns relied on candles for illumination. While that’s technically still an option, far safer alternatives can give you a similar look.
Glow sticks don’t involve flames or batteries and are waterproof, but you need to exercise caution when cracking them to avoid breaking the casing. You can also try waterproof battery-operated LED tea lights, as any liquid shouldn’t harm anything designed to be submersible inside the pumpkin.
Preserve Your Pumpkin
Whether you plan to carve your pumpkin or use another approach, it’s normal to want to figure out how to save a pumpkin from rotting. Fortunately, there are safe, natural ways to preserve pumpkins. Along with being better options for your family, these approaches won’t harm wildlife if they decide to turn your pumpkin into a snack.
For carved pumpkins, the best way to keep a pumpkin from rotting is first to make sure you remove all fibers and seeds from the walls. Taking it all out reduces the amount of moisture, which can slow rotting.
Applying a mixture of vegetable oil and hot sauce to the exterior of your pumpkin can help keep it in good shape longer. Plus, you end up with a nice sheen, and the hot sauce discourages wildlife from turning the pumpkin into a meal.
Alternatively, you can create a solution of one tbsp of peppermint castile soap to four cups of cool water. Mix it in a spray bottle. Then, every night, wipe off the pumpkin and give it some liberally spritzes inside and out.
When it comes to how to preserve mini pumpkins or larger uncarved pumpkins, using vinegar to preserve the pumpkins works quite well. Fill a tub with one part white vinegar to 10 parts water, ensuring there’s enough to submerse the pumpkins fully. Then, let them soak for 30 minutes and allow them to dry.
That strategy works on many different pumpkin varieties, regardless of their shape or size. Just make sure they’re uncarved, and wait to paint or write on them until their preserved and dry.
Save the Pumpkin Seeds
When carving a pumpkin, you might wonder, “What to do with pumpkin seeds after carving?” Fortunately, you have several options.
One option is to save them for your garden next year. When it comes to how to preserve pumpkin seeds for future planting, begin by choosing the largest seeds. Rinse them in a colander to remove any remaining pulp, then spread them out in a single layer on some wax paper to dry overnight. After that, line a baking sheet with paper towels and place it in a cool spot for a month. Finally, discard any that molded or mildewed and keep the rest in an envelope until you plan to plant them next year.
Alternatively, you can turn the pumpkin seeds into a tasty snack. Wash and dry the seeds using the abovementioned process, removing as much excess moisture as possible. Then, it’s time for seasoning.
What do you season pumpkin seeds with? Mainly, it depends on your preferred flavor profile. For something more savory, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika is a solid place to start. Simply use some olive oil to get it to bind. If you prefer sweet, use coconut oil or butter instead of olive oil, whisk in some vanilla, then add cinnamon, sugar, and a pinch of sea salt.
Once seasoned, lightly grease a baking sheet and spread the pumpkin seeds in a single layer. Preheat your oven to 325°F and bake for 15 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and testing for doneness along the way. Finally, let them cool, and enjoy.
Feed the Animals
Once Halloween is over (or your pumpkins start looking a little worse-for-wear), you can turn them into a nice treat for local wildlife. Similarly, you can often set the pulp out for wildlife after you carve your pumpkin, allowing you to avoid a slick mess in your garbage can.
If you’re wondering, “Do deer like pumpkins?” the answer is “yes,” especially the pulp and sees. While the answer to “Do squirrels like pumpkins?” is “not really,” they won’t harm them either, so it’s okay if they decide to eat some.
As for the question, “Do birds like pumpkin seeds?” the answer is yes. The same is true of many small mammals. So, if you don’t decide to use them yourself, feel free to give the local wildlife a treat.
Enjoying Halloween in the Hudson Valley
If you want to participate in some Hudson Valley jack o’ lantern fun, plenty of options are available. The area is brimming with pumpkin patches, and a slew of events occur this time of year.
The Westchester Jack O’ Lantern Blaze is a favorite among Hudson Valley residents and visitors alike. The event runs from September 16 through November 20, 2022, giving you plenty of time to enjoy this fantastic showcase of pumpkin creations.
You can also hear ghost stories during the Boos & Brews event hosted by Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. It’s also a perfect time to visit Sleepy Hollow and explore street fairs, farmer’s markets, Halloween displays, and more.
Ultimately, Hudson Valley is a perfect place for an unforgettable Halloween. Make sure to take advantage of everything the area offers during the year’s spookiest season.