Food & Culture

8 Steps To Keep Your Jack-O'-Lantern Pristine With Science

Halloween can get hectic. With costume planning, candy buying, and child wrangling, it's easy to run out of time to carve a cheerful jack-o'-lantern for the front stoop. But if you get all type-A and carve it the week beforehand, it might rot before trick-or-treaters come around. What to do? By understanding what makes pumpkins shrivel and decay, you can take precautions and keep that illuminated orange face fresher, longer.

What Makes Jack-O'-Lanterns Go Bad?

You've probably noticed that some years, your jack-o'-lantern seems to last forever, while others, it goes mushy within days. How fast a pumpkin starts pining for the fjords depends on several elements. One shouldn't be surprising: how fresh it was when you bought it. You can tell the age of a pumpkin by the color of its stem. The greener the stem, the more recently the gourd was harvested, and the longer it will take for the whole thing to go bad. (The stem is more than just decoration — it's there to deliver nutrients to the pumpkin, after all. Try cutting a hole in the back of the pumpkin instead of around the stem to let it keep doing its thing as long as possible). At the same time, make sure the pumpkin you pick doesn't have any soft spots or open cuts that might let in any spoilage-happy germs.

That brings us to the next thing that'll ruin a perfectly good jack-o'-lantern: mold and microbes. You can ward off these microscopic critters in a number of ways. You could go the traditional food-preservation route: keep it cold, either in the fridge or a cool outdoor area, or even wrap it in plastic wrap when it's not being displayed.

But because you're not about to eat your prized design, you have a few more tools at your disposal. You could soak or spray the pumpkin with a dilution of bleach or borax and water to kill any microorganisms that try to make a home there. You can also smear the cut areas of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly (Vaseline or a generic clone). It locks moisture into the pumpkin to keep it from drying out, just like what it does for your skin.

Scientific Steps to a Fresh Jack-O'-Lantern

The next time you carve a pumpkin, run down this checklist to ensure your carved creation lasts as long as possible.

  1. Pick a pumpkin with a green stem and a firm, unblemished surface.
  2. Cut a hole in the back, not around the stem, to scoop out the innards.
  3. Remove absolutely everything from inside the pumpkin to give microbes fewer places to hide.
  4. Carve it in one sitting to keep it from drying out in the process. Spray it with water, if necessary.
  5. Soak or spray the pumpkin with a bleach or borax and water dilution to kill mold and bacteria.
  6. Coat the cut surfaces with petroleum jelly to keep it from drying out.
  7. Illuminate it with an electric light or a glow-stick instead of a candle, which can cook the gourd and make it spoil faster.
  8. Keep it in the fridge or a cool outdoor spot during the day. Optionally, wrap it up in plastic wrap.

Looking to take your Halloween game to the next level? Check out "Play With Your Pumpkins" by Joost Elffers and Joost Elffers. When you purchase the book with this link, you help to support Curiosity.

Pumpkin Chemistry

Share the knowledge!
Written By Ashley Hamer October 16, 2017