Pumpkin carving is a quintessential Halloween tradition. You can find a jack-o'-lantern on nearly every porch during the holiday. Did you know, however, that jack-o'-lanterns actually originated in Ireland or that petroleum jelly can help keep them fresh? Learn more about this favorite Halloween decoration with this guide about all things jack-o'-lantern.
Origins: According to an old Irish myth, a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack" tricked the devil on two occasions to get things from him for free. When he died, neither God nor the devil would claim his soul, so he was condemned to roam the earth with nothing but a coal placed in a carved-out turnip. The Irish referred to him as "Jack of the Lantern," which was shortened to "Jack O' Lantern." Turnips, beets, or potatoes were carved, lit, and placed in windows to scare away "Stingy Jack" and other evil spirits.
Carving: Pumpkins that are lighter in color are usually softer and easier to carve; avoid pumpkins with visible bruises or soft spots. Start at the center and carve outward, carving the larger areas first, which can be cut into small pieces before removing. You can use your own design or a stencil to create your jack-o'-lantern. A fun trick is to cut away just the outer layer of the pumpkin or to use the negative space as part of the design to give it depth.
Lighting: Before you light your jack-o'-lantern, make sure that the inside of the pumpkin is completely clean and that the back wall is scraped smooth, so it can reflect the light. If you are using a candle, you may want to cut a notch in the lid to act as a chimney and use a glass votive holder to prevent accidents. You can also use battery-operated candles, strobe lights, or colored lights and fog to make your pumpkins a little bit spookier for Halloween night.
Cooking: Once you've cleaned out your jack-o'-lantern, you can separate and roast the seeds. The cooked meat can be used for any recipe calling for pumpkin, such as pie, soup, or pumpkin bread. Make sure to cook or bake your pumpkin at lower temperatures to keep it from getting too stringy. While you can roast fresh pumpkin rinds, it's not a good idea to eat a pumpkin that has been used as a jack-o'-lantern because after even a day of sitting on your porch, the pumpkin will have begun to decompose and mold.
Care: To help your jack-o'-lanterns last as long as possible, soak them in cool water with a drop or two of bleach immediately after carving them. This will help kill any bacteria that contribute to decomposition. Afterward, rub the inside and carved surfaces with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to seal them against bacteria and moisture. Keep your jack-o'-lanterns as cool as possible. You can even store them in the refrigerator until it's time to move them to the porch.