Top or Bottom, and why?
October 20, 2011 11:04 PM   Subscribe

How should we carve our pumpkin, from the top or from the bottom?

I have this huge pumpkin we'll be carving for Halloween. I've been raised to only carve the pumpkin from the top. My pumpkin carving kit says to carve from the bottom. I feel like there was a specific reason why one should not carve a pumpkin from the bottom, but I can't think of what it is/was. Is there any cons to carving from the bottom that I should be aware of? (any other pumpkin carving tips are welcome, too)
posted by BurnChao to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You carve from the top because you need to open a hole in the top anyway to let the heat/smoke out for the candle, in my world.
posted by The otter lady at 11:06 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

In my experience the cut parts get mushie and rotten faster. I would never cut from the bottom because I would be worried about it being harder to clean up if left out to long.
posted by HMSSM at 11:12 PM on October 20, 2011

Response by poster: If I did go in through the bottom, I wouldn't use a candle. I would use a pumpkin light (I've seen them for sale), or maybe just a shaky stick. I may do that anyways, even if I go in through the top.
posted by BurnChao at 11:28 PM on October 20, 2011

Do they give a rationale for carving from the bottom? To hide the cut? If you cut from the top, the divot/skullcap should go back on without being obvious.

But if you do want to tip it back on at a jaunty angle, leaving a small opening, you can use that as a design element: maybe pumpkin innards sprawling out as BRAAAAAAINS, or lights, or cobwebs, or spiders, or anything else, really.
posted by maudlin at 11:32 PM on October 20, 2011

Ahh. Martha Stewart says: "If you'll be using a candle for illumination, you can cut the hole in the pumpkin's top (always put the candle in a high-sided glass, and never leave unattended). For electric lights, make the hole in the bottom or side so you can hide the cord."

If you don't want to use a cord or a string of lights as a design element, I guess that makes sense.
posted by maudlin at 11:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was a top-carver, from a long line of top-carvers, but I've come to see the value in carving from the bottom; you're much less likely to burn yourself when lighting the damned candle. You simply set the candle down and then place the pumpkin over it. I haven't had any problems with mess or mush, at least no more than with top-carved pumpkins.
posted by lekvar at 11:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: They don't give any rationale at all. If they gave some reason, I could easily accept or reject their reasoning. But since they don't say why, I'm left wondering if its a better way.

It does sit at an awkward angle, but since it will be on our lanai (2nd story), the angle ends up being absolutely perfect.
posted by BurnChao at 11:54 PM on October 20, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, I guess I should've refreshed.

That electric light reason makes sense for the bottom. So does the not burning yourself with a candle. Hmmm.
posted by BurnChao at 11:59 PM on October 20, 2011

As a long-time top-carver myself, I can see rationale for carving from the bottom simply due to the way a pumpkin's innards are structured - the strongest thickest webbing and goo is around the bottom and very top, but while you can easily scoop through to the bottom, it'd be harder to cut through the stem end.

Depending on how long you want your pumpkin to be lit, you could ignore electric lights and candles all together and buy a few handfuls of glowsticks. Gives a super-eerie glow, too.
posted by Mizu at 12:12 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Both. Having both ends open makes it easier to clean and carve.
posted by LarryC at 1:56 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

neither. carve it from opposite the flat SIDE (all pumpkins have a flat side). that way you can have it rest on the flat side, vent the candle out the other, and use the stem as the nose! cute, right? OR, you can do what I did a few years back and transform the bottom of the pumpkin into a "Goatse-O-Lantern"
posted by sexyrobot at 2:53 AM on October 21, 2011

You cut it from the bottom so that you can pick up the pumpkin to turn the light on and off each night without sticking your hand in a gross pumpkin every time. You just put the light on the floor and put the pumpkin down over it. We do Sexyrobot's stem-as-a-nose thing, too, and it's really cute.
posted by artychoke at 5:19 AM on October 21, 2011

I have never--and would never--carve a pumpkin from the bottom. It just seems really blasphemous. I've also never had trouble burning myself with the candle, since I always just put it in through the mouth. What's that you say? Oh yeah: my pumpkins all have really big mouths. Mostly for expression, but also for easy candle access.
posted by phunniemee at 5:42 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always cut from the top, but neatly so that I could pop the
top back in. I've never heard of
cutting from the bottom - seems that it would work fine with an electric light. But I'm a candle person - I don't have many other chances to play with fire, so I want to have flickery flamey light on Halloween. (sorry - fake flickering is not the same)
posted by jb at 6:00 AM on October 21, 2011

also, the whole "put your candle in glass" thing sounds like safety paranoia. Pumpkins are wet gourds - they blacken immediately above the candle (on the top that I have reinserted) but don't catch fire easily at all.

We always just stuck a plain 6-inch candle in with plastercine or something.
posted by jb at 6:03 AM on October 21, 2011

Cutting it on the bottom means you have to put it upside down on a table or floor which is likely to break off the stem. I suppose you could put it on its side and cut at it horizontally, but you wouldn't have much leverage this way. Seems dangerous versus pushing down with a knife.

I say cut the top. It's traditional looking (kind of the whole point of carving pumpkins, IMO), and if you want to put an electric light in you could always put the cord through a small hole in the back towards the bottom.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:09 AM on October 21, 2011

Oh, and if you're planning on using a plug-it-in electric light, you can always carve a small pumpkin anus to run the cord through. I feel like carving a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin would cause it to look short, stocky, and prematurely sunken.
posted by phunniemee at 6:10 AM on October 21, 2011

I almost always carve from the top--the only reason I've not done so is if the stem has a good shape to use for a nose. At that point I did what sexyrobot did and carved from the side. Worked fine although it felt a little weird.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:33 AM on October 21, 2011

I can see the wisdom in cutting off the bottom so you can plop the pumpkin on top of your candle, but there are some SERIOUS drawbacks as well.
  1. In order to cut off the bottom you need to turn the pumpkin over, and that means dealing with the weight of the pumpkin on the stem - making for a broken stem or an unwieldy, unsteady pumpkin while you are trying to jam a butcher knife into it. No thanks. Cut from the top and the pumpkin has a nice flat spot to set it on while you work.
  2. I reckon (although I can't be sure) that cutting from the bottom would lead to an advanced case of structural decay syndrome earlier than it would cutting from the top. Cut from the bottom and the weight of the pumpkin is resting on the cut, and the ground-humidity/bugs/etc are directly exposed to the cut. Again, the pumpkin has a nice flat steady base as it is - why you want to mess that up?
  3. Halloween is a tradition, or an interleaved series of traditions, and by gum, part of it is cutting a pumpkin around the stem and scooping out the seeds. That's what Jack-o-lanterns look like, to me.

posted by dirtdirt at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Huh, at first I didn't understand this question because I've only ever carved from the top and have never seen anyone carve from the bottom. The bottom seems very unwieldy and the slight "blemishes" (if you see them that way) you get from cutting the top off (ie. having the cut visible, and the small amount of shrinkage that occurs along to the cut), is way outweighed by the difficulty involved in cutting a hole in the bottom and getting the seeds out that way, not to mention the fact that I think it would undermine the structural stability of the thing between the shrinkage at the cut and the faster rotting there. But I've never seen/tried it.
posted by katers890 at 7:03 AM on October 21, 2011

I used to always cut from the top, but I switched to bottom cutting a few years ago after seeing a friend do it. It;s much more convenient, because you can cut the inside of the bottom piece flat to hold a candle better, and you can set the pumpkin down over the candle, as others have mentioned. Or, you can just toss the bottom piece, and set the candle on the ground with the pumpkin on top. You don't have to worry about prying the top open every night if the stem breaks off, too.
posted by Safiya at 7:13 AM on October 21, 2011

I have been cutting from the bottom for years and would never switch back to top. Many reasons:

1. easier to get the candle/light source in and out, and to light candles.
2. allows for bigger access hole - I don't cut on the bottom, but on the lowest edge (like this) to give a more stable base and greater access to the pumpkin
3. I don't have to worry about the lid falling into the pumpkin
4. I can leave a long trail of vine on the top of the pumpkin for cool decorative effect

and for those worried about crushing the stem - I carve sitting on the floor, cross-legged, resting the pumpkin in my lap. I use the Pumpkin Master saws and tools, and seem to get the pumpkins to come out all right.
posted by jazon at 8:18 AM on October 21, 2011

I always cut from the top and make a pretty top piece out of it. I think it is easier to scoop out from the top as well.
posted by Dee123 at 8:41 AM on October 21, 2011

Response by poster: Well, I think that I'll be getting some smaller pumpkins, and bottom carve them. For this big one I think I still better go through the top. If I put it in my lap upside to carve, like you do jazon, I wouldn't even be able to see over the bottom. Plus I think it will be too heavy to support itself trying to pick it up from the top.

I think I also remembered my initial concern: fitting the lid back on. From the top it's easy to see, from the bottom it can't be seen, and will be very awkward searching for the correct fit.

So thanks all. Lots of good advice, and I'll be using it all on multiple pumpkins.
posted by BurnChao at 10:19 AM on October 21, 2011

As an additional tip, if you dust some cinnamon or pumpkin-pie spice mix around the inside of the hollow pumpkin, they smell nice while they're getting warmed by the candle... and I suspect it might help keep them fresher longer...
posted by The otter lady at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2011

OP, your follow-up post is exactly how I've done it: the small pumpkins, I've cut open the bottom; the big (huge) pumpkins, I've gone through the top. That is now my preferred MO. The bottom is perfect for small or weirdly shaped pumpkins because you can then discard the bottom and just set the pumpkin over the candle/holder and it leaves more room for the face. Also, by carving through the bottom, you could get really crazy and tip a cool shaped one on it's side and incorporate the stem as a nose. :)
posted by Eicats at 1:10 PM on October 21, 2011

There was some discussion of this on Science Friday this morning. The idea seemed to be that the stem stores and distributes nutrients to the pumpkin for some time after it has been severed from the main plant, and that if you cut from the top you deprive poor Jack of the food he needs to make it through the festivities.
posted by lekvar at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2011

I carve entirely too many pumpkins a year, 31 total last year (as I adore Halloween.)
2010 jack-o-lantern pictures
also, the whole "put your candle in glass" thing sounds like safety paranoia.

Actually, using candle holders makes it so you aren't haven't to relight candles a lot on windy nights. I use votive holders on windy Halloweens so I am not having to run back and forth relighting all evening.

Cutting the bottom off makes it easier to light and relight, but, I personally prefer for larger pumpkins the traditional top lid. Medium to small ones, or odd shaped gourds, get bottom cuts.

I prefer candles, but I also carve foam pumpkins and those have to have non fire lights, for those I cut a small hole in the back, just large enough for the light.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:45 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I almost forgot my favorite tool/trick. A pumpkin gutter! They are a drill attachment that cuts a pumpkin quick as can be, and if you are carving more than one or two they are a godsend. Walmart has them now, they are sold at and (no affiliation with any of them.)
posted by SuzySmith at 11:07 PM on October 21, 2011

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