By Mary Heyl

It’s the big weekend before Halloween! Time to stock up on candy for trick or treaters, finish up last minute costume details and get your pumpkin ready for Tuesday night. If carving a pumpkin or two is on your list, read on for great tips to make your carving go a little smoother and your pumpkins last longer. Even if pumpkin carving is not on your agenda, especially if you have young children or are short on time, there are lots of fun no-carve ways to decorate your gourds!

When it comes to carving your pumpkin, however intricate your design, it’s all in the prep work! Just like any other fruit, a pumpkin is perishable, and as soon as you cut it, it starts to decompose. It’s a good idea to wait to carve your pumpkin until 24 to 48 hours before you plan to display it so it doesn’t rot too soon. Be sure to have plenty of water handy as you carve—spray or dab the pumpkin as you work to keep it more work-able, as pumpkins lose moisture quickly.

The next step is getting rid of all the “guts”! If you’ve ever cut out your pumpkin lid only to have it drop straight down into the pumpkin, you’re not alone. To fix this common blunder, cut your lid at a slight angle, which will keep it in place. Then, use an ice scream scoop to remove the stringy innards and seeds: scoop, scoop, and then scoop some more! Continue to scrape the inside of the pumpkin (the side where the design will be carved) until it’s about 1.25 inches thick, which will make it much easier to carve.

Although the kids may love tossing the pumpkin guts at each other, there are other great uses for the gooey slime that usually gets thrown away. Did you know you can use the guts to make some pumpkin stock? Separate the seeds from the guts, and place the guts in a pot filled with water. Boil the guts (and any other vegetable pieces you’d like to use up) for about 30 minutes or until the water starts to change color. Strain the stock and reserve the broth for soups or casseroles—a tasty vegetarian alternative that also freezes well.

For a delicious, healthy snack, roast those pumpkin seeds. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and toss the seeds in melted butter or oil and a bit of salt. On a baking sheet, spread the seeds in a single layer and bake for about 45 minutes or until lightly browned (be sure to stir occasionally for even roasting).

There are lots of unique pumpkin carving templates available on Pinterest, and choosing a few is half the fun! Once you’ve selected your design or made up your own, trace it onto the pumpkin and carefully carve with a paring knife. Spread Vaseline on the cut surfaces of the pumpkin to keep them from browning too quickly and to lock in moisture. Sprinkle some cinnamon on the lid of your pumpkin after the candle has been lit for a wonderful spicy aroma.

Want to try something new? The possibilities for decorating a pumpkin are endless, and there’s a style to suit everyone’s taste and time constraints. Of course, painting your pumpkin with washable acrylics is a great, fast way to spruce it up, but for a fun twist, paint your gourd with black chalkboard paint, and write on it. Draw fun designs or arrows to direct trick or treaters or party-goers to your house.

If you prefer a little bling, try gluing rhinestones to your painted pumpkin or make unique designs using thumbtacks. Paper doilies make great inexpensive stencils for spray painting or use tape to make designs and spray paint for a color blocking effect. Experiment with different textures and fabrics by wrapping your pumpkin in burlap and lace, or use medical gauze and large craft store “googly eyes” to make a pumpkin mummy!

The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination, so gather your pumpkins and your craft supplies, and get ready for a fun weekend!