Pumpkins adorn the streets on Halloween, only the spooky faces quickly start to rot or wrinkle afterwards. Many avid pumpkin carvers wonder how to preserve the carved pumpkin. There are not only several methods for this, but the selection of the appropriate pumpkin species and varieties is also crucial.
Suitable pumpkin species
If you want to preserve a carved pumpkin, the selected variety or type must be right. While a flavorful Hokkaido squash looks great in a dish, it’s not really suitable for long-term storage. Over the period of cultivation of the pumpkin family ( bot. Cucurbitaceae ), numerous sorts and varieties have developed that are ideal for use as ornamental pumpkins. The garden squash ( Cucurbita pepo ) in particular is one of the types of squash whose numerous varieties are suitable for carving and hollowing out:
- Jack O’lantern
- Little Lantern
- Neon F1
- Gourd Verruquese
- Mini Ball
- Sweet Jack
- Aspen pumpkin
- Autumn King
- Baby Bear
- Shenot Crowns
- Autumn Wing
- Small Sugar
- Triple Treat
- Big Max
- Atlantic Giant
- Funny Face
- Autumn Gold
- Happy Jack
- Ghost Rider
The weight of these varieties ranges from two to over 100 kilograms, with the ‘Atlantic Giant’ variety being able to reach a record-breaking 700 kilograms with particularly good care. Whether you want to hollow out such a giant is of course up to you. Once you have decided on a variety, you can preserve it using the preparations and methods below.
Tip: With most varieties of ornamental pumpkins, you should definitely avoid eating the popular fruit vegetable. Many ornamental gourds contain the toxin cucurbitacins, which can cause severe food poisoning.
No matter which variety you have chosen, the right time to harvest is important in order to be able to enjoy the carved fruit vegetables for a long time. To avoid harvesting specimens that go bad faster, there are certain points to keep in mind that indicate an unfavorable squash:
- pressure points
- other injuries
- Mold due to waterlogging
Aside from these clear imperfections that will affect the durability of your carved pumpkin, there are signs of well-matured ones that are ideal for hollowing out:
- woody stem
- a hollow sound when knocked
- Shell is hard and firm
- Leaves of the tendrils begin to wither
Color and weight are not an indication of the ripeness of squashes and should therefore not be used as a guide. The above signs, on the other hand, are helpful in choosing the right gourds.
To prepare your pumpkins for carving, drying them has proven to be particularly effective. This removes a lot of moisture from the pumpkins and at the same time the entire pulp dissolves, which prevents bacteria and fungi from settling during cutting and thus promoting rotting. However, drying is a lengthy process that can take half a year to a year depending on the size of the pumpkin, as the pulp takes so long to completely dissolve. You should never dry the pumpkins in the oven, as this will cause them to shrivel. The pumpkins are dried immediately after harvesting:
- The ripe pumpkin is separated with a sharp, clean knife. In doing so, three to five centimeters of the stem must remain, as this allows you to easily transport it or hang it up to dry.
- Prepare a lukewarm soapy solution of biodegradable dish soap and water. This is used to wash the shell thoroughly and then rinse it with clear water. This prevents the build-up of bacteria and spores that have accumulated over the course of maturing in the bed.
- As a place to dry, choose a weather-protected room that is protected from wild animals. Garden sheds, garages, greenhouses and even living rooms are well suited for this. However, it is important that the storage location is airy or allows for regular airing.
- You can either place the pumpkins elevated on a euro pallet or a surface with holes to allow for good air circulation, or hang them up. If you decide to hang, choose strong packing string and poke three holes in the ground. It is best to choose a disinfected nail for this. This is not necessary if you are laying out the pumpkins. Depending on the location, you may want to place newspaper under the squash when hanging as the pulp and moisture will ooze out of the holes.
- Throughout the drying process, the fruit vegetables must be turned over every two to three weeks if they are not hanging. This ensures that one side does not get too much moisture and start to mold. This step is very important and must not be forgotten.
- As soon as you discover a moldy specimen, dispose of it as it can no longer be used.
The pumpkins are dry when you shake them carefully after a waiting period of at least six months and you can clearly hear the seeds inside. Since these don’t dissolve as quickly as the pulp, you can easily hear when they can be hollowed out and preserved. They should not be opened before this point, since all the pulp has not yet dissolved.
Tip: Don’t be surprised that the dried pumpkins are hard to cut and that it takes a lot of effort. Since the skin becomes even harder during the drying process, sharp carving tools and gloves are recommended if you want to open the pumpkins.
The actual preparation of the squashes is independent of whether you have dried the squash or not. If you want to preserve a carved pumpkin, you can do that too, even if you haven’t dried it first. Only drying brings the best results. Once you have cut open, hollowed out or even finished carving the pumpkin, it is important to disinfect it. This removes microorganisms that significantly accelerate the decomposition process. For this you need one of these three classic home remedies:
- 1 part citric acid and 1 part water or
- vinegar essence or
- 15 ml bleach (e.g. for clothes) to 1 liter of water
Only the vinegar essence does not need to be diluted. The water should be cold. Using one of these methods, fill a large container and dip the squash in, open side first. Be sure to wear gloves to avoid burning your hands. The fruit vegetables remain in this bath for twelve to 24 hours. Then dry well. The bowl is now completely disinfected and now the scary faces have to be sealed in order to preserve the remaining moisture in the bowl and thus the beautiful shape of the fruit vegetable.
Preserving carved pumpkin: 3 methods
Now it’s time to preserve the pumpkins. After you have disinfected these, you can seal the pumpkins. There are three easy-to-implement methods for doing this:
- Hairspray or Clear Coat: Hairspray or clear coat are great for sealing because they’re easy to apply and touch up. Simply spray it all over with the spray and make sure to treat the interfaces in particular sufficiently. It is precisely these that lose moisture and ensure that the pumpkin begins to shrivel. Repeat the treatment at regular intervals and be sure to store the fruiting vegetables away from excessive moisture. Mold formation is unfortunately still possible.
- Beeswax: Beeswax is particularly good for sealing because it builds up a robust protective layer that hardly allows moisture and microorganisms to penetrate the shell. For this reason, the wax is a good protection against mold. In order to maintain this effect, it is necessary to refresh the carved pumpkin with the wax from time to time. Floor wax is an alternative. This seals just as effectively.
- Vaseline: Yes, even Vaseline can be used effectively against moisture loss. Take the Vaseline in your hand and cream the entire pumpkin, inside and out. The layer should be thick enough to be effective. Refreshing the ointment is important when using Vaseline. This is the only way to preserve the carved pumpkin. The advantage: Vaseline is often available in large quantities, which makes it easy to use.
Again, with these methods, at the first sign of mold or bruising, discard the squashes, which may vary depending on size and preparation.