I was a little anxious about finding the perfect pumpkins to convert into Jack O’ Lanterns this year. After all, we’ve had a droughty summer and I was expecting to find the pickins slim and the prices high. However, my local Wednesday farmers’ market came through last week, with exactly the pumpkins I wanted at a good price – I don’t think I paid more than $15 for the three of them. I put them down in the basement to stay cool until this morning. Back in the day I used to carve my Jacks several days in advance, but the local chipmunk and squirrel population viewed this as a free smorgasbord and by the time Hallowe’en rolled around, all the Jacks were gnawed (and usually infested with ants into the bargain).
This year I had one big, fat-bottomed pumpkin with the prettiest dried curliques still attached to its stem. I also bought one medium rounded pumpkin and one short, squat fellow that looked to be a different variety than your standard Jack pumpkin. It certainly smelled good when I cut into it, and was an absolute sweetheart to carve, lacking the hard ridged rind that so many standard pumpkins have. It’s also a more vivid orange.
Now I’m no Martha Stewart. I don’t use any kind of stencils; in fact, I rarely know what the pumpkin is going to look like when I start carving. I feel that my goal in carving is to let out the Jack inside, and so I don’t do landscapes or witches or words like “BOO!” I carve faces, and I usually carve free-handed. Sometimes I’ll scratch out the design I’m envisioning with the tip of a sharp knife (which makes the pumpkin look like it’s weeping a little), but that’s as much to give myself some purchase when the actual carving begins as it is to get a design down.
I got the littlest pumpkin carved in no time flat and started on the next biggest. It turned out to have the toughest rind of the three of them, and since I’d opted for more circular features for this Jack, I had to be very careful that I didn’t slip and carve up my hand in the process. The biggest pumpkin was deeply ridged and I fully expected it to be even harder to cut, but surprisingly everything moved along quite nicely.
At last I got them all finished (John called in the midst of carving the final one to request a Puking Jack – I promised him I’d do that next year). I assembled them in the bathroom (the only room I can get nice and dark at midday) and took their photo. A good-looking group this year – I was particularly happy with the traditional look of the biggest one.
John had suggested that I dress up to answer the door this year, so I threw together a costume out of what I had around the house. I’d bought him a mask but after a bad day at work he didn’t feel like playing, so the door-answering fell to me while he relaxed in front of the television, ate his Hallowe’en chili and handled the remote-control noisemaker duties (we have one of those little speakers that makes Hallowe’en noises). He also took the top panel out of the storm door to facilitate handing out candy. I thought my costume turned out pretty well for a last-minute job (most of the kids thought I was a witch, although I referred to my outfit as Dead Cher).
Around 6:30 p.m. I went outside, plugged in the lights for the electrical display, turned on the battery-op stuff and lit the various lumenaria and Jacks. Our visitors began arriving shortly thereafter, and it was a toss-up as to whether they thought the Jacks, the mysterious voices, the weird-looking lady or the fact that I was passing out candy through what they thought was a solid door was most impressive. The kids were all cute (my favorite was a trio of girls dressed like crayons) and we ran out of trick-or-treaters just before we ran out of candy. About nine o’clock we called it a night; I turned off the lights and blew out all the candles, then scrubbed my face and removed the black nail polish. John and I ate a piece of candy – well, two or three (or four or five). It was a good Hallowe’en.