Carving pumpkins to create grinning, smirking or even scary jack-o-lanterns is a much anticipated Halloween activity in many households. Of course, you want your hard work to welcome trick-or-treaters up to and even beyond the big night, which is why it’s so sad when your painstakingly carved creations start to decay or mold before the holiday even arrives.
Like so many others, we love the joy and sense of achievement that pumpkin carving can bring, so we put together a few of our favorite tips and tricks on how to keep carved pumpkins from rotting anytime soon…
How to preserve : Pumpkin Physiology
Pumpkins are related to summer squash, courgette and cucumbers, which technically makes them a fruit. Like all fruits, pumpkins will dehydrate, decay and develop mold more quickly when exposed to the elements. No matter how many tips or tricks you have up your sleeve, there’s no way to completely get around the laws of nature if you’re carving a live pumpkin.
That said, once a pumpkin has been carved it looks best when it’s fresh, from right after you’ve carved it to 48 hours later. Rarely do carved pumpkins hold their shape or stay mold free for more than five to seven days, so plan your carving parties accordingly.
Choose the Right Pumpkin
Part of learning how to preserve a carved pumpkin is knowing how to pick one in the first place. Choosing a fresh and flawless fruit to cut into is one of the easy ways to control against premature shriveling and mold development.
Here are some ideas on how to choose the right pumpkin:
- Avoid dents, gouges and deep scarring. These flaws may give your pumpkin a unique look and extra character, but these blemishes increase the risk of premature rotting and insect infestation.
- Run your hands over the pumpkin to feel for any soft spots, which can indicate that rotting has already begun. Pick a pumpkin with firm, evenly colored skin.
- Pick your pumpkin locally when possible. Pumpkins imported from distant farms are more likely to have sustained bruising or other damage that can lead to quicker rotting once carved.
It’s as important to wash your hands before carving a pumpkin as it is to wash your hands before preparing food to eat, albeit for slightly different reasons. Human hands contain countless bacteria that, if transferred to your pumpkin during carving, can increase the risk for early decomposition. Make sure you’ve cleaned all your pumpkin carving tools thoroughly, as well.
To eliminate harmful contaminants that may already exist on the skin of your pumpkin, wipe down the outside of it prior to cutting with a sterile bleach solution. We recommend using your favorite household cleaning product that contains bleach or a mixture of one teaspoon of bleach to every four cups of warm water. Bleach inhibits mold growth.
Remember – always supervise children and pets around pumpkin carving tools and cleaning solutions, and never eat parts of a pumpkin that you cleaned with bleach.
Keep your pumpkin photo-ready for longer by using the same bleach solution to wipe down the outside, inside and all freshly cut areas when you finish carving. To prevent the bottom from rotting out, place your carved pumpkin on a clean, dry area that won’t come into contact with water. Don’t forget to bring pumpkins inside when it rains. Mold thrives in moist and wet conditions.
A carved pumpkin will also decay more quickly in hot and humid environments. As much as possible, keep your jack-o-lanterns out of direct sunlight. If the weather will be warm or wet overnight, consider moving your carved pumpkin to a cool, dry place until morning – but not too cold. Temperatures at or below freezing can also increase decay. Cover your carved pumpkin with a blanket or towel if temperatures drop below freezing.
Lighting a Pumpkin
A flickering flame inside each jack-o-lantern adds ambiance and excitement to any Halloween décor, but it’s best to use a battery-operated LED candle rather than a real candle with a live flame. Flameless candles are not only safer, but they can also help preserve your carved pumpkin longer. Intense heat and soot buildup from a lit candle can cause a pumpkin to dehydrate, shrivel and loose its shape faster.
Learning how to preserve a carved pumpkin isn’t complicated. With just a few simple steps, your jack-o-lanterns can last for days before and after Halloween.
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