I know it might be a bit early to start talking anything Halloween but I wanted to try an experiment on preserving Jack-O-Lanterns and share tips early enough so when you buy and carve your pumpkins, you’ll already have them.
CHOOSING A PUMPKIN –
Look for relatively blemish-free and un-gouged skin. (Gouges will rot faster and invite pests.)
Avoid soft spots. Even small soft spots mean your pumpkin is already beginning to rot. Choose a pumpkin with a nice hard body that doesn’t give when you press it gently.
Make sure it’s stable. Sit your pumpkin on a flat surface before buying to make sure it’s stable and won’t tilt or fall over.
Buy local if possible. Buying pumpkins that have been grown in your area haven’t traveled that far, ensuring they haven’t been banged around during transporting it. (Plus you’re helping support local businesses.)
CARVING TOOLS –
(As you can see, I’m a very basic carver!)
Of course you can buy packages of pumpkin carving tools but you can also just use everyday kitchen items…
Serrated kitchen knives, ice cream scoops for scraping and scooping out pulp and seeds, and cookie cutters which can be traced or pushed into the pumpkin for different looking patterns.
PRESERVING YOUR JACK-O-LANTERN –
*The length of time your pumpkin stays fresh can vary quite a bit, depending on where you live and what the weather conditions are.
You have your pumpkin and tools, now before you start carving, prepare your pumpkin to help keep it last longer.
Clean your pumpkin thoroughly before carving. Just like produce, if the outer skin is dirty, when you start cutting, you can actually spread any bacteria. Gently wash the outside of the pumpkin with soapy water or wipe the exterior surfaces with a damp cloth. Make sure any tools you’re using to carve or scoop are clean.
Make sure you scrape the inside of your pumpkin as thoroughly as you can. The meat, or pulp inside the pumpkin is prone to mold and decay so get it all out, along with the seeds.
A couple of tips to remember…Don’t carve too far in advance, keep out of direct sunlight and rain, don’t freeze.
Once your pumpkin is carved, dip it into a large container of bleach water (1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 gallon water.) I used our kitchen sink as the container. You can also fill a spray bottle with the bleach water and spray it on the inside, outside, and cut surfaces. (The bleach kills bacteria.) Let pumpkin dry. I turned mine upside down so that it would drain after soaking it in the sink.
Once completely dry, there are several different solutions you can use to help keep it fresh and last longer.
**Mix 1 teaspoon lemon juice with 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Brush on and inside pumpkin. (This is the method I used.)
**To keep pumpkin from drying out, you can smear petroleum jelly or vegetable oil over the raw edges. Doing this helps keep the moisture sealed in. I didn’t try this and saw mixed reviews with some people saying it didn’t work at all, while the other half said it did.
**Buy a commercial solution of Pumpkin Fresh Spray.
**I also have heard of some people spraying their pumpkin with WD-40.
**Give your jack-0-lantern a daily misting of bleach water daily to help kill any mold. (Which I didn’t do but wish I had.)
**If your pumpkin starts to look wilted, fill up a large bucket or your sink with cold water and a couple of tablespoons of bleach. Soak the pumpkin for a couple of hours, or even overnight, to rehydrate it and make it firm again.
MY 8-DAY EXPERIMENT –
I put my jack-o-lantern out during a week of 70 to 80 degree weather with the evenings getting cool. I actually placed my pumpkin in a place that wasn’t out of direct sun for part of the day, just to speed up the process of my testing. I brushed the inside of my jack-o-lantern with the lemon/vinegar mixture the first day and then forgot about it. I did not brush the inside of the “lid” to compare the difference. When I make my official jack-o-lanterns next month, I will brush the inside daily so the mold doesn’t grow as fast. I will say, the outside stayed firm with no outwardly signs of getting mushy or moldy. And after 8 days of being outside, there were no signs of the birds or squirrels trying to eat it, which typically happens.
Scoop and carve pumpkin. Dip in large container of bleach water (1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon water.) I actually used the kitchen sink as my container.