Gourding crazy

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When the month of October hits, pumpkins of all colors, shapes and sizes begin popping up in grocery stores and at roadside stands across the country.

The orange gourds have been a symbol of fall — and especially Halloween — since most people can remember. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were produced by major pumpkin-producing states in 2008.

Illinois led the country by producing 496 million pounds of the orange gourd. California, Pennsylvania and New York also produced at least 100 million pounds of pumpkins. The total value of all pumpkins produced in those states was more than $141 million.

Many of those pumpkins, undoubtedly, ended life as jack-o-lanterns, pies or simply decorations.

The Magrisi family in North Suffolk is one of the many families in Suffolk who will be decorating with gourds this year.

“They each get to pick a big one,” Robin Magrisi said of her three children as they searched for pumpkins at a roadside stand Tuesday. Morgan, 7, Chase, 5, and Laine, 3, pulled wagons around the lot, evaluating pumpkins and loading them into their carts.

“We’re going to do a small pumpkin with their initial for each kid,” Magrisi said. The children had chosen and loaded about a dozen pumpkins of all sizes by the time Magrisi stepped in to help them narrow down their choices.

For people who choose to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, only a few basic tools are needed. The first thing, obviously, is the pumpkin. A large, round pumpkin with a good, smooth size is the best for most jack-o-lantern designs. You’ll also need a large spoon or ice cream scoop, a thin-bladed knife and newspaper to keep your workspace clean.

First, cut around the top of the pumpkin, around the stem. The size of the hole should be about two-thirds the diameter of the pumpkin — a pentagon works better than a circle. Angle the knife so that the bottom of the hole is narrower than the top, so the lid will not fall into the hole.

After scraping the pumpkin clean, decide on your design. A crayon works well to draw the design onto the pumpkin. Use the knife to carefully cut out the individual parts, and push the pieces out to view the results.

Scrape the bottom flat so that your candle will sit flat on the bottom — white candles work best.

You can download pumpkin-carving stencils from a number of Web sites, including www.history.com/content/Halloween.

Decorating with pumpkins and gourds makes a simple, no-fail way to beautify a home in the fall. Gourds are well complemented with items such as straw, multi-colored corn, horns of plenty and fake leaves. Remember to vary the colors of the gourds you choose, and watch for mold forming on the gourds if you use them in outside decorations.