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Pumpkin-carving, homemade chili, and hot apple cider set the mood for a fun and casual way to entertain multiple families right in your own backyard, without spending a lot of money. With this fun gathering, you’ll get a lot of bang for the buck and memories to last a lifetime.
First, ask each family to bring the carving tools of their choice, and you’ll provide the rest. Get a large piece of tarp and spread in your backyard. You can find tarp in any hardware store. In the center of the tarp palace a bale of hay — easily found this time of year in outdoor gardening ad supply stores — and surround it with leaves. Place one large pumpkin for each family within the leaves, with a few extra smaller pumpkins for the kids, and just in case the large pumpkin doesn’t turn out as expected. The hay with leaves and pumpkins is the centerpiece to your outdoor, in-the-grass, table. You can even add in a scarecrow and gourds to make the centerpiece more of a conversation for guests to enjoy.
Place old newspapers in sections for the families, around the centerpiece with the pumpkins. This identifies their carving area. Also place some bowls for seeds, as well as pumpkin guts, so it doesn’t get too messy or slippery (although the mess is also part of the fun).
Greet your guests prior to the carving with a pot of hot apple cider and mugs already adorned with cinnamon sticks to set the autumn mood. Supply some flavored popcorn in bowls throughout the centerpiece for munching while carving. After the completion of the pumpkin-carving, and of course voting on which family carved the best pumpkin, enjoy a victory feast. Serve up a nice big pot of homemade chili, complete with sides of shredded cheese, onions, sour cream, and tortilla chips.
For that final touch of a little something sweet, place a mix of cookies and cupcakes, with candy corn scattered about the serving platters.
While your guests are enjoying their dessert, prep your pumpkin seeds for roasting by rinsing them through a strainer. Then, scatter the pumpkin seeds on a nonstick baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes. Once seeds are toasted, remove from oven and fill brown paper bags with seeds to offer as a warm gift the guests can take home and enjoy.
—Mersene Norbom, Conway Confidential