How to keep a pumpkin fresh through Halloween

pumpkin curved with Nationals W
Hopefully the Washington Nationals won’t collapse before this carved pumpkin does. (WTOP/Ed Kelleher)
It’s an annual Halloween problem: How do you keep a cool jack-o-lantern fresh enough to keep it from turning into a pile-o-mush by the time the trick-or-treaters actually come around?

Well, as you can probably guess from the cringeworthy wordplay at work here, it’s a job for WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath. It will not surprise anyone familiar with his work to find out that he has not only a good piece of advice, but an entire list of tips.

Follow this advice and you won’t end up with this, which I promise is not time-lapsed in any way:

First off, McGrath said, pick a pumpkin that’s in perfect condition: “Perfect,” in this context, doesn’t mean catalog-worthy shape; it means a pumpkin with no cracks, holes or soft spots. Those imperfections are just a doorway to decay. And you want to make sure there’s a good “handle,” or remainder of its original vine, on the top.

You might be thinking, “What does it matter if there’s a nick in it if I’m just going to cut holes into it anyway?” And that brings us to step two: Don’t do that.

Once you start cutting into a pumpkin, McGrath said, “the pumpkin collapse clock is ticking.” His solution? Wait until next weekend – the weekend before Halloween – to cut into your gourd.

In the meantime, paint a face on your pumpkin rather than carving it in. You’ll preserve your pumpkin and get double the pumpkin-face fun. Being McGrath, he added a really bad joke here, so we’ll move on.

When it really is carving time, McGrath said, cut as much of the top off as you can, to make it easy to get the candles in and out.

And after you put your jack-o-lantern out, don’t just forget it: If it rains, or if the nighttime temperature is going to drop below the 40s, take it inside.

A few other pumpkin-related tips from McGrath: Surely you know how good pumpkin seeds can be when they’re baked with a little oil and salt, but removing them from the slimy gunk that envelopes them when they come out of the pumpkin is a lot easier if you put them in some water for about an hour. And if you were careful about picking and carving your pumpkin, you’ve the makings of a pumpkin pie if you cut it up after Halloween and bake the parts at 350.

Have a happy, safe and aesthetically pleasing Halloween, and let Brainkrieg remind you: Let’s be careful out there.

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