By Glenn Bryant
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With the rise of TV programs like Food Network's "Halloween Wars" and Netflix's "The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell," Jack O'Lantern carving and Halloween decoration call for more than triangle holes in a pumpkin face. Elevating your pumpkin game doesn't require the skills of a master carver. Craft gleeful and ghoulish Jack O'Lanterns using kitchen produce! These tips give your gourd-head spooky potato eyes, snaggle-toothed almond grins, parsnip horns, sweet potato tongues, cabbage gills, and more.

Eyes

To make potato eyes, start by peeling baby potatoes. The easiest way to do this is to scrub the skin off of the potatoes with a green plastic scrubbing pad. Place peeled potatoes in a bowl and cover with cold water to keep them from turning brown before you use them. Remember that red potatoes have whiter flesh than other varieties.

Slice olives, baby carrots, or cut out rounds from red beets to make irises. Use a craft pin with a white ball head to attach the iris to the potato. The pin head will create the effect of a reflection in each eye.

When carving eye sockets, remember that the eyes will pop more if sockets are slightly larger than the eyeball.

For alien or sea creature eyes, consider decorative gourds or limes. For this sea creature, I cut the bottom off of a winged gourd and secured it to the inside of the eye socket with craft pins. Be careful working with these gourds. Their flesh is often much tougher than pumpkin or other squash. I've also used the stem end of limes for a similar effect.

Photo by Glenn Bryant

Teeth

Slivered almonds create threatening, jagged teeth and are easy to apply. After you cut your Jack O'Lantern's mouth opening, carve away a bit of pumpkin skin around the mouth to reveal gums. The almonds are brittle and will likely break if pressed directly into the pumpkin, so make a hole for each tooth using a toothpick or wooden skewer. If applying multiple rows of teeth, remember to start in the back and work forward.

Horns and Fangs

Use a vegetable peeler to shape carrots or parsnips into long fangs or even horns. Horns are easily carved from carrots or in the case of the white and orange devil, from parsnips. You can use a vegetable peeler to shape simple horns, or with a little carving, make stepped, segmented horns.

Peel your parsnips. About an inch from the bottom of the parsnip, make a shallow cut all the way around. Then, carve a bit of flesh away above the cut to define the bottom segment. Repeat up the length of the parsnip. Cut the points of the horns with a knife. Then shape and clean up the segments using a vegetable peeler.

Mark where you'll attach the horns to the pumpkin with a water-soluble pen or marker, tracing the base of the horns. Cut a hole slightly smaller than the marking, so you can remove material from the bottom of the horn to adjust its length. Secure with toothpicks or wooden skewers.

Photo by Glenn Bryant

Tongues

Nothing gives your Jack O'Lantern attitude like a protruding tongue. For a reptilian-inspired creature, cut a section of culinary aloe to a length that suits your pumpkin. You can give a bit of curve to the aloe by inserting stiff wire at the cut end of the leaf and pushing it toward the tip. Then shape as desired (here, I used a piece of wire coat hanger).

Carve a more realistic tongue using sweet potato. Select a sweet potato that is relatively flat and already has a tongue-like shape, if possible. Cut the shape you desire then smooth it using a vegetable peeler. Carve more details such as the v-shaped depression extending the length of the tongue using a sharp paring knife or a clay ribbon tool (available in craft and art supply stores). Secure the tongue to your pumpkin with toothpicks or wooden skewers.

Photo by Glenn Bryant

Gills

For a sea creature effect, give your pumpkin gills. Cut shallow, v-shaped channels into the pumpkin skin for gill openings. To make the gills, I like to use curly kale or red cabbage. For the sea creature, I sliced lengths of red cabbage into curved strips and attached them to the pumpkin with straight pins.

Photo by Glenn Bryant

Brains

It's easy to make a brain with a fresh head of cauliflower. For the simplest version, just cut away the leaves from your cauliflower. Then cut a shallow v-shaped channel from the front to the back of the cauliflower to give your brain distinct left and right lobes. Cut the top of your pumpkin to match the size of your cauliflower. The cauliflower brain rests on four skewers placed in the pumpkin wall about an inch down from the opening. For a more elaborate brain, use an acrylic paintbrush to apply beet juice between the cauliflower lobes.

Photo by Glenn Bryant

More Jack O'Lantern Tips

Save all your pumpkin cutouts and skin! You can use them to create eyes, teeth, ears, eyebrows and other features. They're also great for patching any mistakes you might make while carving.

The produce section of your supermarket is filled with other possibilities, too. Use artichoke leaves as scales or eyelids. Cauliflower leaves make beautiful eyebrows. Apply okra as ready-to-use Jack O'Lantern horns. Carve red beets into small fangs or bloody teeth, or use the stems and root to add a red tint to parts of your creation. Leeks make fantastic scarecrow-like arms and legs. You can even cut the red veins out of chard or turnip leaves and apply them to pumpkin flesh.

Photo by Glenn Bryant