When you think of pumpkin carving, you probably think of big orange pumpkins with smooth exteriors, cut into impishly grinning faces. With a little creativity, though, you can use your autumnal carving skills on gourds and squashes of all kinds.
“There are hundreds of different varieties of gourds and squashes and I think at the end of the day each one lends itself to an artists’ interpretation of what it can become,” said Michael Smith, development director of Camp Sunshine in Casco. “You see the shape and say ‘wow, that looks like a whale’ and that’s direction.”
William Janelle, an artist based in Bridgton, has been carving pumpkins professionally for half a decade. His style, instead of cutting through the pumpkin’s rind, is to etch the design into the top layer of the flesh and rind. He has explored gourds beyond pumpkins, though.
“I really like butternut squash,” Janelle said. “Butternut squash has probably the best consistency. It holds up and I can get a lot more detail [and] it tends to last a little bit longer.”
Not all gourds — or pumpkins, for that matter — will be suitable for carving. Pumpkins that are grown for pies, for example, will be much harder to carve.
“The sugar pumpkins, those things are like rock,” Janelle said. “They are the most brutal. I’ve tried acorn [squash]. Because of the shape of it it makes it a little bit more difficult to get down into what you want to get.”
Janelle also warned that carved winter squashes will not turn out quite like the jack-o-lanterns you are used to. Small winter squashes like butternut squash are difficult to fit a light inside, so Janelle said that he usually sets up a display light above or beside the pumpkin when he sets it outside. Meanwhile, larger winter squashes which can fit lights inside, such as the hubbard squash, have much denser flesh than traditional carving pumpkins.
“Light doesn’t go through it very well unless you really take a lot out,” Janelle explained. “Pumpkin is almost, like, lumescent even if you just scrape out a little bit of the inside to make it a little thinner.”
If you want to carve a particular gourd because it has an interesting shape or color, like a blue hubbard squash, lighting it like a jack-o-lantern
“By the time it gets dark and you put illumination inside them, you can’t really see what it is,” said Judy Florenz, one of the directors of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta. “We display them inside with lights on them rather than interior illumination.”
Plus, once you carve into a gourd and set it outside, it is no longer safe for eating.
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to carve squash because I like eating it so much,” Janelle said.
If you have your heart set on decorating with edible gourds, you may consider more creative decoration techniques in order to preserve the flesh for eating. Florenz suggested painting the gourd using acrylic paint, or using pins or toothpicks to attach decorative elements to the gourds.
“As long as it doesn’t freeze and get disgusting and as long as you don’t have rotten spots on it, you haven’t broken the membrane on the fruit, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be edible,” Florenz said.