Jack-o-lanterns can make any Halloween party, window or front stoop feel more festive. But elaborate patterns and faces can seem too intimidating to take on as a novice.
Professional pumpkin carver Danielle De Jesus — who will appear on the upcoming season of the Food Network’s “Halloween Wars,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. — swears that anyone can craft their own impressive work of art.
And the 29-year-old from Bushwick, Brooklyn knows what she’s talking about. Besides being a member of the Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, De Jesus will face off on “Halloween Wars” against other teams made up of sugar artists, pumpkin carvers and cake experts.
Here are her five ghoul-proof steps to carving the perfect pumpkin.
1. Invest in a pumpkin-carving kit, rather than a sharp knife
Pumpkins are a lot more pliable than their weight and bulk let on, so a large, super sharp knife is probably overkill. Use utensils you already have, or better yet, buy an inexpensive craft store pumpkin-carving kit to get started. (Amazon has one on sale for under $ 6).
Professional pumpkin carver Danielle De Jesus appears on Season 7 of the Food Network’s “Halloween Wars.”
(Zac Hahn / Courtesy of Danielle )
“Make sure kids who want to help are with an adult and always cut away from yourself,” De Jesus says. “Little tool kits are awesome and they come with a perfect little saw and scoop — but growing up, I always used a regular spoon (to scoop out pumpkin guts).”
2. Gut it
“The most time-consuming part of carving a pumpkin is gutting it,” De Jesus says. “It takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but you can roast the seeds and eat them as a snack.”
To gut a pumpkin, you’ll first need to cut a lid out of the top. Simply hold the stem on one hand, carefully insert a knife about an inch or two below the stem (depending on how big your pumpkin is) and cut a circle around it. Then, using a large serving spoon or scooping tool, scrape out the insides until the pumpkin’s totally hollow.
3. Pick a design
While some tool kits come with designs meant to be stenciled onto your pumpkin, the Internet is a source of endless patterns and faces that can be printed, cut out and traced onto your spherical canvas. An easy way to cut out shapes is to “poke holes along the outline of your design and carve around that,” De Jesus advises. Her most detailed pumpkin ever? A Bernie Sanders portrait that took about nine hours.
It took Danielle De Jesus nine hours to carve this Bernie Sanders jack-o-lantern.
(Courtesy of Danielle De Jesus)
“Get creative! It doesn’t have to have two eyes — it can be an alien with a lot of eyes or a vampire with sharp teeth,” she adds. “Maybe the pumpkin has traditional box teeth or no teeth at all. They even sell Mr. Potato Head-style pieces you can stick into it. Or you can paint it — painting will last the longest.”
4. Wash it down
Jack-o’-lanterns are notorious for rotting quickly but you can slow down the process. “Keeping them outside in the cold helps,” De Jesus says, “but washing them or spraying them down with bleach really preserves them and makes them last longer.”
5. Ditch the candle
To really make a jack-o’-lantern pop (and for the “lantern” part to be true), pumpkins are usually lit from within. But our pro recommends adding lights around the gourd, and prefers artificial over natural light since the heat from a candle can cook the pumpkin and make it rot faster.
“You can put lights around the outside instead of just on the inside,” De Jesus says. “Try Christmas lights, LED lights or different colors to go with your design too.”