I love Halloween. When I was little, I’d start planning—and sometimes making—my costume in the summer. My crowning achievement was made in 8th grade. I’d seen and read Gone With The Wind months before and decided I wanted to dress up as Scarlett O’Hara. I sewed a petticoat out of an old bed sheet, attaching a hula hoop and two macramé hoops underneath to give it the proper bell shape. I couldn’t fit down the narrow walkways at a few of the houses on my Halloween route, so Kirsti (dressed sparingly as a Playboy bunny) had to trick-or-treat on my behalf.
Carving the jack-o’-lantern was part of the fun, but it was almost an afterthought. My father did the actual carving, while my sisters and I sorted through pumpkin guts to extract the seeds for roasting. I remember the large knife and how difficult—and dangerous!—it was to cut the classic face of three triangles for the eyes and nose, plus a grinning mouth full of jagged teeth. Then, just as I began to outgrow trick-or-treating, Pumpkin Masters came on the scene and changed everything.
My sister Heidi was the first person I knew to carve a pumpkin using a Pumpkin Masters pattern and tools. Blown away by the level of detail, I thought she was an artistic genius until she explained the simple process. After that, my obsession switched from costumes to pumpkins. I’m no artist, but I can follow a pattern with precision, and this method seemed foolproof for someone with a steady hand and a little patience.
Each year I’d search out new patterns to carve and marvel at the effects that could be achieved with just a few judicious cuts. I also became fixated on carving smaller and smaller pumpkins (the hollowing out of large pumpkins being my least favorite part of the process) and using increasingly complex patterns. When I’d see my hard work begin to shrivel up within 24-48 hours, I would become a little wistful, but I took pictures of each carved pumpkin as a memento. I briefly considered soaking my pumpkins in bleach to make them last longer, but it seemed wrong to defile an organic object that way. Better to let nature take its course and be Zen about the whole thing. That is, until I became a victim of “Skullduggery.”
Last year I attempted my most ambitious carving. Years before, I’d discovered the witty and macabre designs known as Killhouettes when my sister gave me one as a gift. I thought they’d make perfect pumpkin-carving patterns, except for the fact that most of them seemed too complicated, but I finally decided to take a stab at the one titled Skullduggery. In the picture, two men in bowler hats face off with knives drawn behind a picket fence with a lamppost in the center, creating a skull in the negative space between, while tiny tree branches stand in for cracks in the forehead. I painstakingly cut the pattern and was pleased with the result…until I took it out of the fridge mere hours later to find that the delicate branches had shriveled up before the first trick-or-treaters had even arrived!
I’d heard of Fun-Kins, which are faux, carvable pumpkins molded from living versions, but I considered myself a purist and only wanted to use the real thing. Not anymore! I was ready to trade in my environmental principles for the unspoiled glory of polyurethane foam. When Kirsti and I recently went to Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns at Descanso Gardens, I asked an employee if the large and elaborate displays were made from faux pumpkins, and she confirmed that, while many of the pumpkins throughout the exhibit were real, the showstopping arrangements were composed of carved Fun-Kins. I went home that night and placed my order.*
The pumpkins are lightweight and hollow with walls about half-an-inch thick. No scooping required. There was a bit of a learning curve as I got used to this new medium. It is easier to go around tight corners and carve tiny details with a real pumpkin, since the flesh has more give, but a Fun-Kin is more forgiving when it comes to precarious elements that hold on by a thread. I’ve had a few mishaps over the years with real pumpkins where a fragile piece broke off and needed to be staked with a toothpick, but Fun-Kins are sturdy. Based on the examples at Descanso, they lend themselves particularly well to etched designs, but I haven’t yet mastered the art using a linoleum cutter or similar tool to scrape an image into the surface of a pumpkin.
This year, I’m already enjoying my pumpkins instead of frantically carving them the afternoon of Halloween or doing so the night before and hoping the designs hold up in the fridge until the trick-or-treating commences. I’ve put them in my front window, each with one of Fun-Kins’ own battery-operated tealights to illuminate the design. I’m still going to carve a real pumpkin to put on the front porch with an actual candle inside. After all, you have to leave something for the juvenile delinquents to smash. But the pressure is off. I can use a simpler design and not worry if it rots or gets destroyed. There’s no reason to limit myself when I have so many choices, because attempting something like A Rose for Lady Ravencourt on a real pumpkin? I’d have to be out of my gourd!
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:
The Isabel, Skullduggery, and Bridezilla pumpkins are based on designs created by John Fair for Killhouettes. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns can be seen in New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles through November 1st.
*My Fun-Kins arrived within two days of placing my order, so there’s still time to get yours before Halloween if you order in the next few days.