How To Choose A Pumpkin That Won't Rot Too Quickly

Whether the goal is an evocatively carved Halloween jack-o'-lantern, harvesting guts for pumpkin butter, or a perfectly prepared pumpkin pie, step one is the same: choosing the right pumpkin. Healthy pumpkins can last for months, assuming they're stored properly. Pumpkins put out as decorations can have a relatively long life, too, with a few simple tricks.

First, however, one must find a good pumpkin. Locally grown specimens – fresh from the pumpkin patch — are always preferable, as they haven't been subjected to the wear and tear of travel. But supermarket pumpkins are also fine, of course. Make sure to examine the stem and skin. The former should be firmly attached, and the latter colorful and free of blemishes. Color is an indicator of ripeness, so the brighter the color, the fresher the pumpkin. Avoid pumpkins with soft stems or skin. Ripe pumpkins should be firm and hard and without cuts or bruises.

The ideal size of a pumpkin, meanwhile, is dependent upon use. Pumpkins purchased for cooking should be smaller (between four and eight pounds) while those intended for jack-o'-lanterns should be larger (about 15 pounds). When buying pumpkins to carve, check the bottom (aka the blossom end) to ensure it's flat enough to be displayed well when upright. Check the ribs, too. The smoother a pumpkin is — meaning, the shallower the ribs — the easier it is to carve.

How to keep carved pumpkins from rotting

Traditionally, carved pumpkins will only last for about a week before they begin to rot. In fact, this process may be sped up in unseasonably warm weather, as pumpkins are extremely sensitive to climate fluctuation. Just as a frost or freeze will cause a pumpkin to collapse, too-warm temperatures will cause it to rot faster, with signs beginning to show in as few as three days.

Of course, there are tips and tricks that will delay this inevitable rotting, and allow you to display your perfectly carved jack-o'-lantern for weeks, if not months, before Halloween rolls around. Start by washing the pumpkin thoroughly with soap and water, then apply a bleach solution. Not much bleach is needed (use 90% water and 10% bleach), and this won't pose any danger to pets. It will kill any bacteria, however. Once the pumpkin is dried, it can be carved and then preserved even more with an additional bleach soaking using the same ratio.

First, though, you'll want to clean out the interior of the pumpkin by scooping out flesh and seeds. Only then should the carved pumpkin be submerged in a bucket of bleachy water (eight hours minimum). Afterwards, rub petroleum jelly on the inside walls of the pumpkin, and on the edges where it was carved. This will ensure your pumpkin is well-preserved, but it will also make it flammable. Since real candles exacerbate rotting, they're not recommended anyway. Use the flameless type instead.

How to store pumpkins properly to prevent rotting

If you're buying pumpkins to prepare seasonal dishes like pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup, there are a few storage tips to keep in mind. As mentioned earlier, pumpkins are susceptible to heat, which speeds up the rotting process. That's not the only issue to be aware of, however. Direct sunlight will also exacerbate rotting, and so too will skin blemishes like nicks or cuts. That's why choosing the right pumpkin in the first place is so important.

For storage purposes, cool, dry, and dark are the operative words. Cool — not frozen. Like many wines, pumpkins store well at temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Cellars and garages are often good storage options, as both provide cool conditions, without the possibility of direct sunlight.

If kept in ideal conditions, pumpkins should be good for three months or more. As a pro tip, try storing your pumpkins upside down. Pumpkins continue to ripen after they're picked, and this storage method aids in the process. It also helps to keep them from developing mold, or from flattening out on one side. Since ground contact can result in unwanted moisture, store the pumpkins on cardboard for best results.