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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: October 16, 2015

Carve a cooler pumpkin this Halloween: Stab into a jarrdale, polar bear or knuckle head

Written by: Shannon Bryan
Many pumpkins carved: the polar bear, tiger kakai, jarrdale, knuckle head and yellow. Shannon Bryan photo

Many pumpkins carved: the polar bear, tiger kakai, jarrdale, knuckle head and yellow. Shannon Bryan photo

Halloween is closing in, which means most of us have already spent several weeks racking our brains to come up with the coolest, craftiest, creepiest costume the world has ever seen (or at least something amusing and different from last year).

But when it comes to another of Halloween’s traditions – pumpkin carving – we all reach for another one of those ho-hum orange pumpkins we carved last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

I don’t wish to insult tradition here, but maybe it’s time we thought outside the orange-pumpkin box. Maybe it’s time to carve something we’ve never carved before. Or even carve something no one has ever carved before!

There’s a tremendous variety of pumpkins and other squash out there, piled alongside those orange standbys at local farms and greenhouses. There are pink pumpkins and gray pumpkins, pumpkins with stripes or speckles or warts, pumpkins with names like “hooligan,” “speckled hound” and “flatso.”

And while many of those uniquely colored or bulbous squashes are bought for baking or for hanging out quietly on front porches, keeping the mums company, many of them are also carvable. I say many – not all. Some pumpkins just aren’t havin’ that jack-o’-lantern nonsense.

I learned that the hard way during a recent pumpkin-carving experiment. In a nutshell, I picked out a handful of neat-looking pumpkins from the impressive selections at Snell Family Farm in Buxton and Highland Avenue Greenhouse in Scarborough. I took them home and, one by one, I plunged a knife into their tops. Some resisted. Some welcomed the chance to become a jack-o’-lantern (perhaps a pumpkin’s highest honor).

May the results below encourage you to carve a “nuckle head,” a “polar bear” or a “tiger kakai” this year. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to pick out some strange squash at random and see what happens. You’ll be better for it. And the neighbors will be filled with envy.

In order of ease-of-carving:

The tiger kakai with its cool stripes. Shannon Bryan photos

The tiger kakai with its cool stripes. Shannon Bryan photos

Tiger kakai

Carving: About the same as the carving pumpkins you’re used to
The guts: Bright orange flesh with a thin green layer just under the skin, which looks unique when carved. And the seeds are a dark green! But don’t let their non-traditional appearance deter you from toasting them – they taste similar to sunflower seeds.

This pumpkin certainly got its name from the distinctive green stripes on its skin. It’s temperament is perfectly docile, though. It’s easy enough to carve and the orange flesh inside has a thin layer of dark green just below the skin, which gives carved-out eyes and mouths a unique look. I was surprised by the color of the seeds, too – a deep green/gray.

The polar bear pumpkin is ghostly without even trying! Shannon Bryan photos

The polar bear pumpkin is ghostly without even trying! Shannon Bryan photos

Polar bear

Carving: About the same as the carving pumpkins you’re used to
The guts: Pale yellow flesh and seeds

White pumpkins are neat because they look ghostly without even trying. Carve a couple of eyeholes into that thing and you’ve got yourself a skeleton head or Jack the Pumpkin King. The white pumpkin I carved is known as “polar bear,” but I’ve spotted similar white varieties being sold locally, like “snowball” and “cotton candy.” The seeds were lovely toasted, too. They’re smaller that the pumpkin seeds we’re used to, but still tasty.

Yellow pumpkins are just happy looking. Shannon Bryan photos

Yellow pumpkins are just happy looking. Shannon Bryan photos

Yellow pumpkin (variety not known)

Carving: About the same as the carving pumpkins you’re used to
The guts: Pale yellow flesh and seeds
This pale yellow pumpkin could make an easy Bart Simpson, if you picked out the right shape. Most of the yellows I saw were oblong or wide-bottomed and all were medium sized, which only mattered after I cut off the top and realized how much harder it is to clean out the insides of pumpkin that shape and size. It wasn’t impossible, but it was a bit of a challenge (not to self: Next time, cut a bigger hole on the top). I wasn’t able to track down the actual variety name of this yellow beauty, but she’s easy to recognize.

Gotta love the knuckle head pumpkin, warts and all. Shannon Bryan photos

Gotta love the knuckle head pumpkin, warts and all. Shannon Bryan photos

Knuckle head

Carving: Mildly difficult
The guts: Thick, deep orange flesh

The “knuckle head” is covered in warts, which makes it look lumpy and funny and maybe like it was once cursed by an evil pumpkin patch witch. The orange skin has splotches of green, too, and is interesting to look at all on its own. I thought the thick warts would make carving this pumpkin harder, but it turned out that I struggled with the thickness of the flesh instead. The warts really weren’t a problem (something to note when choosing where to carve. I initially tried to avoid the warts, but that’s not necessary).

The jarrdale is a tough one, but worth the effort. Shannon Bryan photo

The jarrdale is a tough one, but worth the effort. Shannon Bryan photo

Jarrdale

Carving: Very difficult
The guts: Deep orange flesh (thick stuff!) that smells delicious, even raw!

This pumpkin nearly broke me. The flesh is very thick, which makes carving it difficult – but not impossible. (The store-bought pumpkin-carving knife with the orange handle struggled, but ultimately did get the job done.) And this is one sharp-looking pumpkin. Its dark-gray skin is eerie right out of the gate – it’d make a great Frankenstein or other creepy character. But the “jarrdale” will make you work for it. That’s okay, having the coolest-looking pumpkin on the block shouldn’t come easy. So take breaks, keep at it and show that “jarrdale” who’s the Halloween boss.

The elusive one too many. It does exist - this photo from last year is evidence. Shannon Bryan photo

The elusive one too many. It does exist – this photo from last year is evidence. Shannon Bryan photo

One Too Many

Carving: Impossible! (Except not really)
The guts: Green!

This pumpkin is easily the best-looking pumpkin I’ve seen in Maine, but it’s also the hardest to carve. Why? It’s a phantom. I stumbled across this stunner, called a “one too many” or sometimes a “bloodshot eyeball,” last year at Highland Avenue Greenhouse in Scarborough. Curious (and maybe a little bit in love), I brought one home and jabbed it with a knife. Turns out, the “one too many” is easy to carve, the insides are a cool green and the seeds are excellent toasted. It was a Halloween discovery I wanted to share with the world (and the impetus for this very story). Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to track down the “one too many” again this year – not at Highland Avenue Greenhouse or any of the other nurseries or farms I’ve inquired with. But if you see it, buy it. Carve it. And please tell me where you got it!

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