While none of us would likely argue the joy of having a front porch fully adorned for Halloween, let’s face it – pumpkins are expensive!
Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to grow your own pumpkins at home, it’s a lot of work. And once the last trick-or-treater has passed and your pumpkins are covered in snow, it can be a real hassle to deal with the clean-up.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your pumpkin lasted a little longer? There are plenty of tricks you can incorporate to keep your pumpkin looking great long past Halloween, but once you’ve carved it, it can quickly become a haven for curious wildlife and lead to a stinking mess on your front porch.
Here are some tips to help preserve your carved pumpkin so that it will last – no matter what you want to do with it.
Ways to Preserve Carved Pumpkins
Choose the Right Pumpkin
The process of preserving carved pumpkins starts long before you even get your pumpkin home! When you select the pumpkin, make sure it is healthy and capable of being used in the long term. The best option will be a pumpkin that is freshly harvested and has at least two inches of stem.
A long stem is vital – not only does it help wick moisture from the pumpkin but it also reduces the likelihood that bacteria and other rot-inducing microbes have already gotten to your pumpkin. A broken stem invites infection.
Prep Your Pumpkin
Before carving your pumpkin, give it an ice bath. This will rehydrate it and also prevent mold growth. Let it sit in the ice overnight.
Store Your Pumpkin Properly
Follow some general rules of thumb when it comes to storing your carved pumpkins. For starters, keep them out of direct sunlight and heat.
Heat speeds up the process of decomposition. After you’ve carved your pumpkin, don’t use real candles to light it. The heat will essentially cook the pumpkin from the inside out. If you don’t feel the need to keep your carved pumpkin out on display, you can refrigerate it to help it last longer.
Soak it in Bleach
If you want your carved pumpkin to last long for decorative reasons – and you don’t plan on eating it – you can soak it in a bleach solution.
This is best done before carving your pumpkin, but you can do it afterward, too. To do this, simply mix a teaspoon of bleach with a gallon of water. Allow the pumpkin to soak, fully submerged in the pumpkin for an hour.
The water will hydrate the pumpkin, preventing it from drying out, while the bleach will kill surface bacteria and spores of mold that live on the exterior of the pumpkin. While you can soak for longer than an hour – up to eight hours, in fact – it’s not recommended. Soaking for too long can make the pumpkin too soggy, increasing the likelihood that it will rot.
Once you’ve pulled the pumpkin out of the bleach solution, use a paper towel to get rid of excess moisture on the pumpkin (as well as inside it, if you’ve already carved it). Spritz it with additional bleach – put a tablespoon of bleach in a quart of water and then douse the pumpkin with the stronger solution.
Then, let the pumpkin dry upside down for about twenty minutes. That’s all there is to it!
Coat it With Vaseline
Use Vaseline, or some other petroleum jelly product, to moisturize the pumpkin. This will lock in moisture to prevent the pumpkin from drying out and it will also block out bacteria and mold. Most people will combine this method with the bleach method listed above – it will get rid of existing bacteria instead of locking them in.
For this method, all you need to do is rub the exposed flesh of the pumpkin with a thin layer of petroleum jelly. Some people use vegetable oil instead. After wiping down your pumpkin, put it in a spot that does not receive a ton of direct sunlight.
Make a DIY Pumpkin Preserving Spray
If you want to preserve your pumpkin but aren’t interested in any of the heavy, strong-smelling chemicals we mentioned, you can also make a DIY spray to prevent mold/ simply combine a capful of liquid perfecting soap and six drops of peppermint oil in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the inside and outside of the pumpkin to keep it moisturized and to repel mold and bacteria.
Freezing a Carved Pumpkin
Now, if you want to get more bang for your buck, you can also freeze your carved pumpkin to be eaten later on (and remember, even if you don’t eat it, your chickens or pigs will love it!).
To start, make sure you have a pumpkin that has not already begun to rot. You will want to use a pumpkin that was carved not too long ago – think just a week or less – for the best results. In general, you shouldn’t be carving your pumpkins any sooner than four or five days before Halloween, anyway.
Begin by thoroughly washing your pumpkin. Use lukewarm water to do this, using a vegetable brush to gently remove dirt if necessary. Do not use soap or any kind of detergent to clean your pumpkin.
Then, cut each pumpkin into small chunks. These should be about two or three inches in size. A serrated knife will work best, as it will make it easier for the knife to grab on to the tough skin of the pumpkin.
Blanch the chunks, dipping them in boiling water for about three to five minutes. Then, you can remove the pumpkin chunks and either peel them or freeze them whole. It’s best to use a vacuum-sealed bag to prevent moisture from getting into the package and causing freezer burn.
Freezing and Pureeing a Carved Pumpkin
While it’s easy to freeze pumpkin chunks for roasting later on by using the method described above, a lot of people prefer to puree their pumpkin so that they can later use it in recipes like pies.
To do this, wash and cut the pumpkin just as you would if you were going to freeze the chunks whole. Then, you have a choice.
Some people peel their pumpkin chunks as the next step, but it’s generally easier to wait to pee until after you have boiled the chunks. As a result, you should next boil your pumpkin chunks until they are soft. Place them in a stockpot and cover them with water, boiling for about half an hour (or until you can poke through the flesh of the pumpkin with a fork).
If you don’t want to boil the pumpkin, you can also bake it. To do this, you should cut the pumpkin in half and place each half in a baking dish, facedown. Cook it in an oven at 375 degrees for an hour and a half.
Either way, once your pumpkin is cooked, it should be soft enough for you to handle. You will now want to let the cooked pumpkin cool. Once it’s cool, you can scrape the pulp from the rind and put it in a bowl.
After all the pulp has been removed from the skin, put it in a food processor or blender. You can also use a handheld potato masher. You want to mash it until it has reached a pureed consistency.
Pack the pumpkin puree into rigid containers, leaving about an inch of headspace between the top of the pumpkin and the top of the container. This way, it can expand as it freezes.
Unfortunately, no pumpkin is going to last forever. And often the best way to help improve a pumpkin’s longevity is not to carve it at all. But if you want to make the most of the Halloween and fall season – but don’t want the fun to end after the 31st! – these tips for preserving your carved pumpkins will make that possible.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.