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Pumpkin City: Your Chicagoist Jack-o-Lantern How-to Guide

By JoshMogerman in Miscellaneous on Oct 30, 2010 7:00PM

Fiery Jack-o-Lantern [boxercab via Flickr]
Where have all the Jack-o-Lanterns gone? They used to be on every stoop in town, but we’ve noticed fewer and fewer of them on display in the city (particularly in Chicagoist outposts like Logan Square, Bronzeville, Hyde Park and Lakeview---let us know if your hood is more pumpkin friendly). And that’s a darn shame since nothing evokes happy Halloween memories from childhood like carved glowing gourds. That’s why we are calling for a public pumpkin resurgence.

For some, pumpkin carving might seem intimidating, so we offer this no-muss, no-fuss guide to help you lead the jack-o-lantern movement in your hood. Run out right now, grab a pumpkin and follow this simple how-to for a cool looking decoration and a bonus holiday snack.

Here’s what you need: a pumpkin, some newspaper, a small flexible knife (serrated steak knives work nicely), a votive candle, a strong spoon or ice cream scooper and a grease pencil or marker.

  1. Spread the newspaper to catch the mess.

  2. Cut a hole or hexagon at the top of the pumpkin to make a cap. Cut at an angle so that the cap will firmly plug the hole later. The hole should be big enough to comfortably get your arm inside that big gourd---you two are going to get pretty personal.

  3. Cut the guts and seeds off the cap so it is clean (otherwise, the gooey stuff hangs down and either douses the candle or sets fire to your pad).

  4. Use your scooping implement to pull out the guts of the pumpkin. Yeah, its kinda gross, but remember that game you played at school where you touched eyeballs and intestines only to find out that they were peeled grapes and spaghetti? Imagine this is the same thing, and just another gory Halloween tradition.

  5. We are big fans of separating the guts from the seeds---more on that in a bit.

  6. Once you have a pumpkin cleaned of innards you are ready to work on the design. Draw the face on the outside using the pen or grease pencil. Remember, it is pretty tough to do elaborate cuts, so try to keep it simple or broaden your tool kit to include exacto-knives and nails to punch out smaller details.

  7. Start cutting. Take it slow. Sometimes it is easier to cut general shapes first and cutting details like teeth after the big pieces have been removed.

  8. Advanced carvers often scrape details into the orange outer skin so that the lighter white pulp will glow in contrast.

  9. Make sure to put the candle inside on a flat spot inside at the bottom of the pumpkin so that it doesn’t slide and set fire to your pad… Pop the top back on and admire your glowing artistic marvel.

  10. Those seeds are pretty tasty. For an easy snack, bake ‘em. Rinse the seeds. Place them on a baking sheet with a few spritzes of oil and some seasoned salt. Bake until they turn golden brown (just a few minutes).

See? Not so hard. Just a couple of minutes work will make you feel artsy and help renew a fantastic tradition that could transform our town’s rep. The press went crazy when we had a few cow sculptures on the street---imagine how geeked they would be to see a jack-o-lantern in every window? It would be transformative to our city's image. After all, being known for our jack-o-lanterns would be way better for Chicago than being recognized for our jag politicians…

Let us know if you see jazzy jack-o-lanterns we should be sharing with the world.