You’d have to be out of your gourd to skip fall’s filthiest pastime: getting elbow-deep in a giant squash. Follow these steps to pumpkin perfection and create your own HappiMess moment.
First, look for size. Small pumpkins can be too dense to carve, while giant ones mean more scooping. Aim for medium size, and give the rind a once-over. The skin should feel firm (feel a soft spot? Move on!), appear even in color and texture, and give a nice, hollow thump when lightly knocked. Avoid pumpkins with dry, brittle stems.
Using a large serrated knife, cut an opening around the stem, making sure to hold the knife at an angle so the lid won’t slip through the opening. The hole should be large enough to accommodate hands and carving tools. Next, hollow out the pumpkin, scooping out flesh, strings and seeds with a large spoon. On the side you intend to make the pumpkin’s face, scrape the walls a bit thinner (½- to 1-inch thick) to make carving easier. Remember, pumpkins begin to rot four days postslice, so don’t jump the gun.
Use a washable marker to sketch on ghoulish fangs or gourd-geous lips. Better yet, let the kids do it. Stencils are also a good source for pumpkin carving ideas. Now, start carving—adults only! While you work, give little hands the task of de-stringing the seeds from all that goo. Dirty work done? Find your masterpiece a home out of direct sunlight, and slip in a battery-operated tea light.
The fun’s not over. Follow this roasted pumpkin seeds recipe for a spicy seasonal treat: Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Toss the seeds in a strainer or colander under running water for a few minutes, pulling out any rogue strings. Pat the seeds dry between paper towels. In a large bowl, toss 2 cups of seeds with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon each paprika and cumin, and a few shakes of hot sauce. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast 45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally to ensure they cook evenly. Munch ‘em while they’re warm!