No guts, no glory

Sharpen your knives & your talent, it’s pumpkin carving time

There is something oddly satisfying about plunging your hands into the guts of a pumpkin, pulling out fistfuls of the stringy viscera, slimy and freezing cold from frosty nights the pumpkin has spent on the back porch waiting for late October.

The cold in this case was remembered; it was actually late September, the trees were just beginning to turn, the nights had only recently begun to cool and this particular pumpkin spent the last day or two in the greenhouse warmth of a sealed car.

Preparing to carve the pumpkin brought back memories of butchering the orange squash with dull kitchen knives, newspapers spread across the kitchen floor to catch the spray of vegetable bits.

The aroma of roasting pumpkin seeds, an unfortunate byproduct of the process, occasionally intruded with the promise of salted-cardboard flavor and a burnt linoleum texture.

Freedom from roasted pumpkin seeds may be the greatest advantage to pumpkin carving in the comfort of your own kitchen, but carving a pumpkin in the workplace turns out to have its own set of additional advantages.

For example, a second-grader of unknown origin happened to be passing by. She suggested imbedding pumpkin seeds in the jack-o’-lantern’s gums as teeth, a brilliant alternative to eating them.

This turned out to be more difficult than it initially seemed, but several minutes of effort later proved it is possible to anchor seeds as teeth with the help of paperclip segments passed through the lip and the root of the new tooth.

The tear-drop shape of the seeds offers the potential for flat or pointed teeth, but the work is time-consuming.

Also learned during the course of several pumpkin-carving sessions near the office’s only water cooler: most people remember carving pumpkins as children or with their children, some don’t like doing so and dislike of roasted pumpkin seeds is not as universal as it should be.

As Halloween approaches, here are some pumpkin-carving tips.

With a sharpened spoon and considerable care, it is possible to scrape away enough of the pumpkin flesh from the inside to let sections of the pumpkin glow more strongly than the rest, useful for a disturbing rosy-cheeked look.

Jigsaw blades are useful for tight turns and won’t slip like a knife.

It is important to select the right tool for the job.

Aztec priests dispatched sacrificial victims with flint knives painstakingly chipped and elaborately decorated. Pumpkins may warrant slightly less effort, but the right tools will keep things running smoothly and prevent the frustration of breaking off a pumpkin tooth, or deflecting a dull knife into hand, arm or face, all painful and embarrassing to explain.

Knives should be sharp with thin, narrow blades to avoid cracking or crumpling the surface, for easy turns, clean lines and because sharp tools cut more predictably and minimize accidents.

Metal spoons are useful for scraping out what can’t be pulled out and more or less anything small and sharp can be recruited to the cause.

A needle and thread can be used to anchor dangling eyeballs, stitch up fake scars for effect, or, for horror-movie fans, to sew one jack-o’-lantern’s peeled face onto another.

Eyeballs, ears or noses can also be made to hang appealingly from the pumpkin’s face by carving these features before scooping out the pumpkin’s insides, leaving them tethered with the still attached pumpkin strings.

As these strings are anchored to the floor and walls of the pumpkin at regular intervals, leaving portions of the walls string-free, opening up the pumpkin top remains a reasonable first step whether or not you plan to gut it immediately.

Like pumpkin seeds, the guts are a divisive topic.

The wandering second-grader turned out to be Jocelyn, 7, the daughter of Recorder photographer Paul Franz. She reports that her sister dislikes this stage of jack-o’-lantern production. Then, Jocelyn volunteers to disembowel the remaining pumpkin herself.

While pumpkin carving may be relaxing, jack-o’-lantern design can be stressful.

Gouges and incisions can’t be undone and whatever you settle on you will probably decide halfway through that the mouth could have been higher, the teeth more plentiful or the eyes less lopsided.

Buying more than one is a simple solution. In addition to providing a spare in case of mistakes, a second pumpkin more than doubles the possibilities.

Chopping up one for spare parts can provide the afore-mentioned pumpkin skin mask, or a pumpkin helmet, a bowler hat, a beard, or some other facial features to be pinned on with toothpicks. Wire nails or broken paperclips can do the job with less effort but may offer more of a hazard to passing squirrels.

For my design, I settled on a copy of a previous year’s creation: protruding eyeballs and ears cut and folded out from the pumpkin.

In keeping with the natural order of the plant kingdom, the second and larger vegetable is positioned to eat the first.

In the end, the larger pumpkin is insufficiently menacing. Jocelyn prescribes a facial scar.

After that, nothing remains to be done but light the pumpkins and find a convenient way to display them.

Franklin County Pumpkinfest Oct. 20

Festivals built around the jack-o’-lantern provide a day in the spotlight for your pumpkin before the arrival of Halloween and the inevitable slow decay on the front porch or the abrupt, smashing finish on the pavement.

The best local option for showing off your pumpkin-carving skills is the Franklin County Pumpkinfest, which is gearing up for a third year on Avenue A in Turners Falls on Saturday, Oct. 20. Admission is free, bringing a pumpkin is encouraged but not required.

Food options will be plentiful with vendors lining the street and a beer garden will be set up in Peskeomskut Park near the festival’s main music stage.

Michael Nelson founded the Montague event in 2010, inspired by the Keene Pumpkin Festival and motivated, in part, by wanting to avoid the long drive into New Hampshire.

Parking is free, with a free shuttle to the parking lots at the Turners Falls High School, 222 Turnpike Road, and the Sheffield building of Montague Elementary, 43 Crocker Ave. Shuttles will run constantly from 3 p.m. to
10 p.m.

Organizers wish to point out that as the event takes place on public property, dogs are permitted, but they are also discouraged for the safety of animals and guests.

Costumes are encouraged, as are carved and painted pumpkins.

For purposes of pumpkin and attendee census, pumpkins may be checked in at the station in front of the St. Kazimierz Society building at the corner of Avenue A and Seventh Street beginning at 10 a.m. A second station will open later near Third Street.

Organizers say Avenue A will be closed from Second Street to Seventh Street, including the Third Street intersection, for the duration.

Nelson will be bringing a few of his own pumpkins and farm donations are welcome, but the festival relies on visitors bring pumpkins that will line the streets and the new racks built by the Franklin County Technical School.

Nelson estimates there were approximately 10,000 visitors last year.

“If every single person brought one, that would be huge — so we certainly encourage everyone to come, to bring a pumpkin and hopefully they will,” Nelson said. “It’s the people who visit our event that make the pumpkinfest happen.”

This year, Nelson hopes a better pumpkin harvest, aided by the absence of last year’s flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, will help contribute to a greater pumpkin presence.

Giant puppets from Skeleton Crew Theater, fire dancing, line dancers and musicians will be on hand to entertain, with children’s activities concentrated near the post office.

There will also be live music on the Main Stage: Tommy Fuentes Band, 3 to 4 p.m.; Jen Tobey’s Alter Ego, 4:20 to 5:20 p.m.; Ruby’s Complaint, 5:40 to 6:40 p.m.; Curly Fingers Dupree, 7 to 8:20 p.m.; Greg Stewart, a.k.a. DJ MP3J, 8:40 to 9:40 p.m. There will be performances by Karen’s Dance Studio between the musical acts.

Food will range from pizza to pumpkin-filled cannolis, and craft vendors will have a stronger presence this year, according to Nelson.

For more information, contact Nelson at or 522-0712 or visit the festival’s Facebook page.

Staff reporter Chris Curtis started at The Recorder in 2011. He covers Montague, Gill, Erving and Wendell. He can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 257.

Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is

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