Most Brooklyn neighborhoods take fall décor seriously, but mine really gets in the spirit. Think Mums, pumpkins, gourds, ghouls, and cobwebs times 100.
Last fall, one stoop in particular grabbed my attention. Other than the fact that its owners had pulled out all the stops, it was that its pumpkins just refused to wither and die. Several days in, even the jack-o'-lanterns looked fresh from the patch.
So, what kept these pumpkins from turning into puddles of mold/shriveled gargoyles/zombies? Now that fall is around the corner again, I’m ready to find out.
After way too many hours of trawling through YouTube videos, we have a list of all the least controversial, most compelling steps you can take to preserve a pumpkin, both whole and carved:
Pick a healthy pumpkin.
It all begins with the pumpkin you pick—the fewer the spots and bruises, the better. Imperfections give pumpkins their character, but they also invite rotting. Also, look for firm skin that isn’t spongy to your prodding.
Avoid carving until you need to
Once you expose the skin, the clock on that pumpkin officially starts ticking. When you do carve, remember to gut the insides completely before you carve it up—If you leave any strings or seeds, you're providing fodder for microbial growth.
Give it a soak
Turns out, a bleach soak is the internet's most popular way to preserve both whole and carved pumpkins. Before you do anything, make sure you have a pair of gloves on. Then prepare a soak of one teaspoon (you can't go wrong with up to two teaspoons, either) of bleach in a gallon of water. Leave your pumpkin (carved or uncarved) soaking in this wash for anywhere from an hour to overnight. Bleach is an anti-fungal agent and an oxidizer, and will slow the natural decomposition process. In this test, it was found to be the most effective versus both hairspray (there it is again) and diluted lemon juice.
...without the bleach
Because not everybody is a fan of bleach (less safe for children, pets, and outdoor animals), a safer alternative is to dilute one tablespoon of peppermint dish soap, such as this Castile Soap, in a quart of water. Pour the mixture into a clean spray bottle and lightly spray the inside and outside of your pumpkin, before drying.
OK, this is slightly controversial. Some "experts" suggest coating uncarved pumpkins in WD-40. To do this, simply spray WD-40 all over the surface of the pumpkin and wipe off the excess with a rag or paper towel. We'd exercise caution against going wild with this (unless you want a pumpkin that breathes fire when you put a candle in it).
A solid moisturizing regimen is always a good idea. If it's a carved pumpkin you're treating, you can use petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to rub into all the exposed parts of the pumpkin (do this after a bleach soak for twice the benefits). Petroleum jelly, according to these carving experts, helps it not dry out and shrivel up.
Keep it cool
If possible, refrigerate your jack-o'-lantern when it's not in use. When you do put it out, place it in a spot that doesn't get direct sunlight or rain. Also, hot tip: Every time your pumpkin looks like it needs hydration, bring it in and soak it in a tub of cold water overnight. A cool dip will do wonders to revive its flagging spirit.
Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.