Jack-o'-lanterns can be true works of art, but they can begin to disintegrate in no time at all. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true techniques that can help you keep your Halloween carving fresh for weeks.
Pick the Right Pumpkin
The first step in selecting the perfect gourd is to choose a carving pumpkin rather than a pie pumpkin. Carving pumpkins are larger with thinner skin and have less "guts" on the inside.
When you've found a contender, pick it up and tap it—you should hear a hollow sound. Inspect it for scratches, bruises, or dark spots, and then turn it over. Press your thumb against the bottom. If the skin gives, the pumpkin isn't fresh, so it's more likely to rot quickly.
Store Your Pumpkin Properly
Warm weather and hot sunlight can speed decay in a pumpkin. Store both cut or uncut pumpkins in a cool dry place, such as in a cool basement or the refrigerator, to keep them fresh longer. 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.
Hold off on Carving
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.
Treat With Bleach or a Bleach Substitute
Once you cut your pumpkin, the goal is to slow the rotting process. Fill a spray bottle with a bleach solution by mixing 1 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, 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 reduces moisture loss and keeps a pumpkin looking fresh for longer.
Soak the Pumpkin
If you cut your pumpkin too early and now it's shriveled and sad-looking, revive it for Halloween night by 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.