Jack o' Lanterns can be true works of art, but once they're created they can start to disintegrate in no time at all. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true techniques that can help you keep your beautiful Halloween creation fresh for weeks.
Start with the Right Pumpkin
Select pumpkins that are very fresh and firm. Avoid choosing a pumpkin that has bruised or soft areas or cuts or other visible blemishes.
Don't Carve Your Pumpkin Till Halloween
Fresh, uncut pumpkins will maintain their freshness for quite a while, but once their tender inside flesh is exposed to the air they can start to rot. That's why it's best to wait as long as possible before creating your Halloween Jack o' Lantern.
Store Your Pumpkin Properly
Remember that warm weather and hot sunlight can speed decay in a pumpkin. Store both cut or uncut pumpkins in a cool dry place to keep them fresh longer. You may have a cool basement or room in the refrigerator. Be aware, too, that freezing temperatures are just as harmful as heat.
Smaller cut pumpkins can be wrapped in plastic and stored inside the refrigerator for a few days before Halloween —helpful if you are having a party and need to carve them ahead of time.
Cut the Bottom, Not the Top, of Your Pumpkin
If you're like most people, you start your Jack o'Lantern by cutting a circle around your pumpkin's stem to create a lid. Instead, try cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and removing the piece. When you're ready to light your Jack o'Lantern, light a candle and place the pumpkin over the candle. This reduces the amount of moisture that usually collects at the bottom of the Jack o'Lantern, and thus increases the life of your pumpkin.
Treat Your Cut Pumpkin with Bleach or a Bleach Substitute
Once you cut your pumpkin, the name of the game is slowing the rotting process. One good way to do this is to fill a spray bottle with a bleach solution by mixing one tablespoon bleach per quart of water. Spray both the interior and exterior of the pumpkin with spray, giving special attention to cut surfaces. Once it dries, the bleach solution will kill bacteria that cause mold.
If you're not comfortable with using bleach, which is toxic to children and animals, consider using peppermint instead. One option is to spray the pumpkin with a solution of peppermint Castile Soap and water.
Apply Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is an all-purpose, low-cost product that can protect the cut edges of your Jack o'Lantern while also keeping the pumpkin moist. Just cover all cut edges of a pumpkin, as well as the entire interior, with petroleum jelly. This is the best way to reduce moisture loss and keep a pumpkin looking fresh longer.
If All Else Fails
You cut your pumpkin too early, and now it's shriveled and sad-looking. To revive it for Halloween night, try soaking it in a bucket of cool water for a few hours and then draining it thoroughly. This is a quick, short-term fix that will plump up your pumpkin for the critical trick or treating period.