No amount of candy corn can make up for the moment you realize that your carefully carved pumpkin’s smile has turned into a rotting grimace just as the trick-or-treaters start showing up at the door. The freshest pumpkin is carved October 31, so if you are tempted to start the festivities earlier, follow these tips to make sure there will still be a plump pumpkin to greet the neighborhood kids once the big day arrives.
With a keyhole saw, either take off the top of the pumpkin (best if you intend to put a candle inside), or make a hole in the back. Then dig out the pumpkin pulp with a scraping tool—a spoon can do, but it helps to have something with a sharp edge or teeth. Be sure to remove one hundred percent of the pumpkin guts. Carve the gourd by affixing a stencil and using an awl—or another thin, sharp tool—to outline the pattern with small holes before cutting. Then dig in carefully with a miniature saw or sharp knife to complete the Jack-o’-Lantern’s face. Even a drill can double as a carving tool—use a ½ inch or ¾ spade bit for making the eyes.
Once you’ve got the perfect ghoulish grin, the preserving process begins. Joyce Martin Demchak, a floral design instructor with the New York Botanical Garden Adult Education Program (and pumpkin expert) suggests drying the pumpkin interior using a paper towel. “Carving the pumpkin exposes it to the air, and to bacteria, which is what causes pumpkin rot,” says Joyce.
To delay the eventual decay, spray all open surfaces with bleach (an adult, not child-appropriate task), including the edges of its face and the bottom of the lid. If you don’t have a spray bottle, Joyce says that you can paint the bleach on with a craft brush. After bleach application, blot again with the paper towel to catch any residual moisture, then start smearing petroleum jelly—just a thin layer—on the interior, the cut-out spots, and the lid. The jelly provides a barrier to keep bacteria from reaching the flesh. Finally, set out Jack with a candle (which is safe to use despite the Vaseline) or use Christmas lights wrapped around a jar.
For tips on greeting trick or treaters with outdoor lights, check out Smart Choices for Outdoor Lighting.