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Oct 19

Trick or Treat

Tips on carving jack-o’-lanterns with personality

written by keila szpaller
photographed by michael gallacher

Jack-o’-lanterns aren’t just for kids.


Pumpkins with personality are for adults, too, or at least ones who are kids at heart. My guy, for instance.
I think one of his favorite fall events is a pumpkin carving party we’ve hosted in recent years. It’s the most simple get-together, but as social gatherings go, it’s fun ’cause it’s different than, say, a dinner party.
I like it ’cause it brings adults and little people around the same table, all doing the same thing: Stabbing gourds. Important work before Halloween, right?
Here are some tips and a supply list if you want to tell your friends to head to your place to carve pumpkins. This is the low maintenance version, to be sure.
Supplies: Old newspapers (Sunday comics from the Missoulian are especially festive); carving knives; tea lights; a big trash bag; masking tape; scissors; a Sharpie; a big pot of chili; spoons and soup bowls; a giant bowl and roasting pan; and beverages of your choice (pumpkin beer is a fine choice for the adults).
Tell your friends to bring their own pumpkins and knives and, if they’re in the mood, a beverage.
Tape the newspapers across the table and spread them on the floor. Don’t be shy about going big here because believe you me, pumpkin guts fly far. Put the bowl and knives on the table, and let the carving begin!
We just leave the chili on the stove and folks dish up when they’re ready. My guy tells carvers to toss the seeds and pulp into the bowl, and then one or a couple of us sort out the seeds. Then my guy, the pumpkin-seed-roaster extraordinaire, toasts a couple of different batches and flavors for folks to nibble on.
I carve as quickly as possible because I’m no good at it. I like the smallish pumpkin with a bunch of circles. Easy.
One friend of mine, though, gets quite serious, and she’s the one who needs scissors and tape. She brings a piece of paper with the outline of an elaborate design, and I’m not joking when I say that one year, it was the face of a Transformer.
So she needs to cut it out, tape it to the pumpkin, and then draw the design onto it with a Sharpie. Impressive feats, her jack-o’-lanterns.
Some people need inspiration, and one year, I unwittingly provided it.
A dachshund dog friend was staying with us at the time, and I think the influx of people to our small kitchen made him a nervous wreck and upset his tummy.
He made a little deposit onto the kitchen floor.
I made a big scream. I mean, a pot of chili bubbled not 3 feet away, right? Horror.
Horror and, as it turns out, inspiration. One friend carved a dog and a screaming woman onto his pumpkin, and I was honored.
We took the pumpkins outside on the porch and lit all the tea lights, and all the pumpkins glowed scarily, happily, or, in the case of the dog and woman, gleefully.
So that’s the last step, of course. Stick a tea light into each pumpkin, take ’em all outside, light ’em up, and ooh and ahh.
For the record, the dachshund later delivered a fancy bottle of cleaning spray with a little note: “Sorry I pooped.” No one else was, though, and I’m hoping he joins the party again this year.
Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on Michael Gallacher is a Missoulian photographer. He can be reached at (406) 523-5270 or by email at