N.C. — When Danny Williamson was growing up in
Columbus County, he would go into the towns of Chadbourn
or Evergreen, N.C., for trick-or-treating.
a result, there wasn’t much need to carve Halloween
pumpkins at Williamson’s childhood home. That’s how
Williamson, 62, now of Raleigh, got to his late 30s
without ever having carved a pumpkin.
partner, Rusty Taylor, 65, decided on the spur of the
moment to change that during a trip to the State Farmer’s
Market about 25 years ago. Taylor was buying produce
close to Halloween when a farmer offered her last seven
pumpkins to him for $10. Taylor turned the farmer down
at first, got to the car and turned around.
came home and said, ‘Guess what?’ " Taylor
the couple’s home is a must visit on Halloween night
for their friends and neighbors. Each year, up to 55
pumpkins line the broad front steps of their home.
and Williamson hold court on the sidewalk outside as
people ask questions. Williamson always carves one
political pumpkin. Taylor delights in children finding
images from their favorite storybooks among the pumpkin
carvings, like "Bunnicula," "Lilly’s
Purple Plastic Purse" and Hogwarts castle. Children
sit down next to the pumpkin with the year carved in it
so parents can take the annual Halloween photo.
not publishing the couple’s address because they don’t
want to see increased vehicle traffic on their small
street, especially on Halloween night with so many small
children out after dark.
Taylor and Williamson agreed to share their Halloween
pumpkin carving wisdom:
of pumpkins: The more popular Halloween pumpkins —
those perfect orange globes with the curved stem on top
— tend to have tough skin and fibrous flesh. Those
attributes make them difficult to cut and hollow. They
prefer the "Mammoth Gold" variety. The skin is
easier to cut and the flesh is similar to an acorn
squash and takes less work to remove the seeds.
no to perfect pumpkins: They prefer a variety of shapes
and colors: tall, squat, twisted, funky, orange, green,
white or mottled. Those variations inspire the carvings.
If a pumpkin isn’t flat on the bottom, flip it over or
take a sliver off the bottom and place it on top of a
jar lid or plant tray.
to buy: Wait to buy pumpkins closer to Halloween to get
the best deal, especially if you are buying many.
to hollow: Wear rubber gloves. Otherwise, using hot
water and soap to clean the pumpkin guts off your hands
will create a cooked layer of pumpkin juice on the skin
that can only be removed with cold cream. Line the table
or work surface with plastic tablecloths with felt
backing. (Seasonal tablecloths often go on sale after
Memorial Day, July 4 and other holidays.)
plan: Break up the work. Hollow out the pumpkins and
remove the seeds on one day and carve the pumpkins on
Halloween. Hollowed out pumpkins will keep for several
days in a cool place, like a back deck, a basement or a
shady spot in the yard.
up: Place pumpkin guts in double-lined grocery bags and
place in the trash can. If you are doing a dozen or more
pumpkins, distribute the pumpkin waste among your trash
can and — with permission — your neighbor’s trash
can. It is heavier than you think and no one wants to
create a burden for sanitation workers.
to use patterns: For a few early years, they used
Pumpkin Masters patterns. Eventually, they graduated to
photocopying images out of books. Taylor spent 41 years
working for Wake County public schools, primarily as a
media resource manager for the libraries. He recommends
photocopying, enlarging and darkening images from
children’s books to create patterns. Affix the pattern
to the pumpkin with masking or painter’s tape and use
a dull pencil to transfer the image to the face of the
pumpkin before carving.
tools: They buy the packets of pumpkin carving tools,
which are often deeply discounted the day after
Halloween. Taylor has one unique tool, a copper circular
clay hole cutter that potters use, which enables him to
carve perfectly round holes out of the pumpkin’s face.
tips: Carve the most intricate sections first. Don’t
take out the pumpkin flesh you are removing until the
end. Otherwise, your design has no structure to support
it while you continue carving. And don’t worry about
making a mistake. "When we make a mistake,"
Williamson said, "we turn it into something else.
Your face suddenly has a scar and you go with it."
to keep: How long the pumpkins will last depends on the
weather; hot weather means a short shelf life and cold,
rainy weather means a longer shelf life. They have
revived their pumpkins by dipping them in a bathtub of
cool water for 2 to 3 minutes. Warning: it creates a
mess in the bathtub.
Buy oversized tea light candles, which last longer.
(They stock up at Ikea.) They also put two candles
inside each pumpkin, which makes re-lighting easier.
Once one burns out, the rest will soon follow.