Some pumpkin-carving tips from experts

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Lisa and Richard Carey, of Vestal, New York, have carved thousands of pumpkins over the past 25 years. They brought their carving expertise to the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival this year, and their pumpkins will be among the many, many more displayed in Veterans Square on Saturday. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)



LACONIA — "We are hoping this will inspire some people to be more creative with their carving," said Richard Carey, standing among some of the two dozen jack-o'-lanterns that he and his wife, Lisa, had brought from their home in New York as pumpkins and which they spent Wednesday and Thursday engraving and sculpting into cartoonish faces. In addition to the normal-sized pumpkins, they also brought a pair of giant pumpkins – one 600 pounds, the other 900 – that Richard spent two days carving. One of those giants will be auctioned off to benefit the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, and all of their jack-o'-lanterns will be on display on Saturday in Laconia's Veterans Square, either at the 34-foot-tall tower or arranged in front of Prescott's Florist.

While the task of carving 30 jack-o'-lanterns plus two giant pumpkins would sound like a lot to most people, it's actually a step back for the Careys. Starting 25 years ago, when their children were small, they decided to take their carved pumpkins beyond the conventional three-triangle face, zig-zag mouth scheme. Within several years, they were filling a park with their creations, and at their peak they were carving 300 pumpkins each year. They've long lost count of how many pumpkins they've carved over the years, but it's surely in the thousands.

So, what have they learned about carving pumpkins? That there's more than one way to skin a jack-o-lantern.

For adventurous carvers looking to expand their skills, the Careys have three primary suggestions:

• First of all, stop cutting a hole around the stem of the pumpkin. Leave the top intact, and instead, cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin to clean out the insides. This will make it easier to simply place the carved pumpkin over a lit candle, rather than trying to set a candle inside the pumpkin and light it from above. It will also be more stable on a flat surface, and, the jack-o-lantern will last longer once rot starts to set in. Instead of rotting around the top and falling in on itself, it will rot around the base and will remain stable for a few more days.

• Secondly, expand your pumpkin-carving tool kit. Kitchen knives are good for cutting, but small wood saws are much better for carving pumpkins. In fact, Richard, who also dabbles in wood carving, finds that many of his woodworking tools are useful when carving pumpkins. For example, he uses a drill to give his pumpkins pupils in their eyes.

• Lastly, consider all dimensions of the pumpkin – between the outer skin and interior cavity, there's as much as an inch of flesh. Much of the detail that the Careys acheive in their pumpkins comes from using a paring knife to scrape off the orange peel, revealing a light-colored flesh that can then be sculpted into shapes or features. That flesh offers some contrast with the orange peel during the daylight hours, and is translucent after dark when the pumpkin is lit from within.

Richard says he approaches a pumpkin in the same way a sculptor sees a block of marble – he looks for the finished product inside, and removes the material around it.

"When you get the pumpkin, you look at the shape and the expression is there, you just work with it," he said.

"And you make it come to life," added Lisa.


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This pumpkin, carved by Richard Vestal of New York, will be one of thousands at the 2016 New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival Saturday. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Pumpkin festival is becoming Lakes Region's own

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Pumpkins gathered at Veteran’s Square ready to be loaded onto the Tower for Saturday’s Pumpkin Fest.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — When Richard and Lisa Carey of Vestal, New York, had young children, they wanted to have a little more fun with their pumpkin carving than the usual.

"Our children inspired us when they were little," said Lisa. "We realized you can do a lot more than a traditional triangular face." They started experimenting with pumpkin carving about 25 years ago, trying to create a likeness of their favorite cartoon characters. Within a few years, they were carving a dozen or more at their house, and each year had a theme, such as Winnie the Pooh, Disney characters, or the cast from The Rugrats. Soon, so many people were stopping by their house each fall that they partnered with their municipality to host the pumpkin display in a local park. At their peak, the Careys, with the help of a few other volunteers, were carving about 300 pumpkins each year, and people would come by the thousands to see them.

But it just grew too big for one family to handle. There was the cost of buying the pumpkins, plus all the time involved in washing, gutting, carving, washing again, and then drying each pumpkin so it won't mold, for 300 jack-o'-lanterns.

"It got out of control, where we couldn't manage it anymore," said Richard, so they stopped holding the public events. Yet, Richard, a self-employed auto mechanic, and Lisa, a nurse, couldn't shake the pumpkin-carving bug. And, after 25 years, they had gotten really good at it. So they loaded up their pickup truck with two huge pumpkins – and a couple of dozen normal-sized squashes – and pointed the truck toward Laconia.

This is the kind of story that Karmen Gifford, president of the Greater Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, has been hearing for months now. This is the second year that the Pumpkin Festival has been held in Laconia, and is the first year that the Chamber is organizing the event. She has spent the last year planning the event, with guidance from the nonprofit Let It Shine, which ran the festival for many years in Keene and for its first year in Laconia. What Gifford has found this year is that the festival has been adopted by so many different people and groups, who have each decided to have their own role to play. That role can be as small as an individual who will bring his or her own carved pumpkin to be added to the others on display – if the total exceeds 30,581, it will set a Guinness World Record – or as big as many other critical roles, which have all been adopted by businesses or individuals, from both near and far.

"We had a lot of pieces hanging out there, they all came together last week," a smiling Gifford said on Wednesday. "But we couldn't have done it without the community."

After long being an event associated with Keene, Laconia was excited to host the one-day festival last year. Still, there were questions about whether the event would resonate with people outside of the city lines. And it did, as about 35,000 people came to see the the festival's first run in Laconia. That kind of turnout only further excited the local hosts.

"I think, last year, nobody knew what to expect. This year, we're making it our own," said Gifford.

The list of people who have stepped forward to play a role in the festival is too long to count. Laconia schools have committed to have each student carve a pumpkin, and businesses and individuals have offered to supply enough pumpkins for the students. Volunteers are staffing the welcome centers, the Bank of New Hampshire has invited nonprofit organizations to run children's games in its parking lot, electrician Jim Hutchins has designed a plan to light all of the pumpkins placed in the 34-foot-tall tower, and the city's Department of Public Works has done yeoman's work to get the festival up and running. There's still time for volunteers to join the effort, too, she said, inviting people to enlist at one of the welcome centers, to help light or count pumpkins, or to lend a hand in the "Pumpkin Dump Derby" cleanup effort that begins at 8:45 p.m.

Many businesses have signed up to have a presence during the festival. There will be many vendors downtown, offering food and crafts. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, which was very popular last year, will offer 45-minute excursions that will leave from the downtown train station every hour, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Two local restaurants, T-Bones and 405 Pub & Grill, each asked to operate a Biergarten.

Those who come to the Pumpkin Festival this year will find more vendors, more food and more activities, said Gifford, and it's all thanks to the many different people who have joined the effort. For the Careys, it is encouraging to see so many people come together for the festival. That's why they decided to offer one of their giant, carved pumpkins to be raffled off at the festival. Each ticket costs $1, and every dollar raised will be donated to the festival.

"If we can help, we want to help," said Lisa.

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A Pumpkin Patch window mural painted by Jayla Austin at the Boys and Girls Club in preparation for Saturday’s Pumpkin Fest.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)



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A granite bench has been installed at Bolduc Park on the Laconia-Gilford town line in memory of Ken and Barbara Bolduc. Donors included Armand and Arlene Hamel, seated, former Laconia residents now living in Merrimac, Massachusetts. Standing are Norman and Anita McKeown of Belmont; Allan Hopkins, Bolduc Park worker; and Marilyn and Bob Bolduc of Belmont. Ken Bolduc was the oldest of 14 children in the Charles and Aurore Bolduc family of Gilford and served as a combat engineer during World War II, working to help build the Alaskan highway. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and the bench is located with a view of a pond at Bolduc Park, which hosts golfers during the summer and cross-country skiers during the winter and was founded by Bob Bolduc. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)