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xx Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Jack-o'-lantern makeovers

Give traditional pumpkins a new look this Halloween

By PAULINE FURLONG -- The Canadian Press

Being in a vegetive state is not necessarily a bad thing on Halloween when you are Cyrano de Pumpkin. -- CP PHOTO: Greg Agnew
 MONCTON, N.B. (CP) -- Catherine Delong is thumbing a carrot nose at tradition this Halloween.

 The mother of two plans to update her family's usual jack-o'-lantern with a trendier look. Raffia hair topped by a fashionable straw hat and expressive snow-pea eyebrows will provide the pumpkin with a carefree, folk-art air.

 "It's a different look that's more fun than basic cutouts," she says.

 Delong plans to cut out a hole from the bottom of the pumpkin so the top remains attractively intact. Carefully scooping out the edible innards which will be transformed into her family's favourite Halloween muffins, she will ensure the pumpkin is clean and dry before allowing the children to conduct the decorating honours.

 Virtually any vegetable can be transformed into a facial feature. Think chestnuts for beady eyes, thin carrots and parsnips for noses, pea pods for expressive eyebrows and bean sprouts for a thinning thatch of hair.

 Glue may not work because of the moisture content of the veggies. Instead, insert straight pins on the diagonal for better stability.

 Finally, remember that making at least one cutout (perhaps the mouth) in a face otherwise formed of vegetables will allow candlelight to glow from within.

 New design elements such as vegetable-bedecked and painted pumpkins are putting a decidedly innovative twist on an age-old holiday.

 Halloween has its roots in ancient Ireland's Celtic festival of Samhain, when souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes, with ghosts, witches, black cats and goblins coming along for the trip.

Anne of Orange Gables -- pumpkin style. -- CP PHOTO: Greg Agnew
 Legend has it that a blacksmith named Jack once played a trick on the devil, making him climb a tree and then trapping him in the branches.

 As the story goes, Jack, a mean character in life, was turned away from heaven when he died. But having made no friend of the devil, Jack was also turned away from hell. As he left the underworld, he dropped a coal into the centre of a turnip he was carrying. And so Jack was doomed to walk the Earth forever, carrying his own hellfire in a hollowed-out turnip.

 Carving Jack's turnip became a tradition in Ireland. After Halloween came to North America, the carved turnip turned into a pumpkin and thus was born a popular autumn tradition.

 It's one Thelma Smith wouldn't miss. She hosts annual pumpkin-carving gatherings at her home, a time when her children and an assortment of friends scoop seeds, draw rough patterns and then wield their magic with a knife.

 "No one pumpkin looks alike, as you would imagine, and put together, they all look great," she says with a laugh, remembering some of the more unusual designs.

 Delong advises cutting an opening from either the bottom or on the least desirable side so the top is left unmarked. If an upper lid is preferred, be sure to use a sawing motion and slant the knife with the point toward the stem rather than cutting straight up and down. This will create a wedge shape that will prevent the lid from falling in.

 "For decorating, I like the look of an unblemished pumpkin," she says. "I find having that top cut out sort of spoils the look."

 Scoop out the insides and seeds with a spoon or melon baller and scrape well to the point of firm flesh.

 Delong draws simple designs on the pumpkin with a magic marker. More complicated designs require a paper pattern. Tape this to the pumpkin and poke holes with a toothpick or skewer along the lines of the stencil. A thin paring knife, fish knife or other slim knife may then be used to saw along the dots.

 Attach a layer of foil with staples or toothpicks to the underside of the pumpkin top to prevent it from burning.

 Rubbing petroleum jelly or vegetable oil on all cut surfaces will extend the life of the pumpkin, which will begin to dry out as soon as the shell is cut and the flesh exposed.