Pumpkin carving is an annual tradition for many Austinites, but with our late fall heat and humidity, it can be difficult to keep your carved pumpkins from molding and collapsing. Obviously you can avoid rotting pumpkins by opting to paint it or arrange it in some no-carve design, but if you want a classic flickering jack-o-lantern on the front steps, here is your guide!
Your pumpkin begins to oxidize and decompose as soon as you make the first cut, so time is of the essence. Make sure you have everything ready before you begin hacking away at your pumpkins.
You will need:
-Pumpkin carvers or carving knives (short, sharp knives work best)
-Spoon or pumpkin scoops
-Bleach or Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap
-Vaseline or WD-40
- Bin or bucket (large enough to submerge your pumpkin)
-Reused plastic bag
Carve the top hole of your pumpkin, and remove all the seeds and pumpkin guts. Save the seeds for roasting, you wont regret it. Be meticulous and thorough with removing all of the guts. Use a metal spoon or pumpkin scoop to scrape the inside down to the rind.
Do not carve the face or design yet. You need to sterilize and dry the inside and outside first. This step is important for the prevention of bacterial growth from the very beginning. Spray the inside and out of the pumpkin with a bleach and water solution (1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water), a sudsy spray of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. After spraying, allow the pumpkin to dry out completely before beginning to carve.
Now you can carve your pumpkin in any amazing way you would like!
After carving, the most important step to having the longest lasting jack-o-lantern is a long soak in a bleach/water bath. Using a large bucket or container, submerge your amazing work in a bleach/water solution of 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water. Your pumpkins should soak for several hours, but no longer than 24.
After the pumpkins have air dried from their bath, it is important to coat the carved edges with a moist preservative. You can order a spray product off the internet called Pumpkin Fresh which leads the industry in pumpkin preservation sprays. However, if you would rather use something you already have, coat the edges in petroleum jelly or WD-40 to keep them moist. Pumpkins that dry out tend to collapse around their carved edges. Petroleum jelly keeps them moist for longer and slows down the drying process..
Real candles have a traditional look to them, but in reality that open flame inside the pumpkin heats up the rind and softens the tissue which invites bacterial growth and early collapse. It is also important to remember that petroleum products like Vaseline and WD-40 can be flammable, so if you use it, only illuminate your pumpkins using glow sticks, battery powered lights, or LED flickering candles.
During the days, with the lighting removed, spray your pumpkin with the same bleach/water or peppermint soap solution you sprayed it with in the first step. This will keep your pumpkin from drying out, while making the new moisture inhospitable to mold and bacteria. You can also opt to submerge your pumpkins in a cold bath of this mixture as an alternative to spraying.
Another trick to keeping pumpkins fresh and moist is to store them in plastic bags in your refrigerator when they are not on display. Not everyone has the fridge space for this, but if you do, you'll find yourself with much longer lasting pumpkins.