Pumpkin preservation is a topic that I have been asked about endlessly. Since I began this website in 2000, I have been asked over and over how to preserve a pumpkin. From the beginning I had the habit of spraying my pumpkins with WD-40 to keep the bugs away from them.
I told other people to use this technique as well. I even published it in my book. Other books mentioned using Vaseline, but I knew that spreading vaseline on every cut surface of your pumpkin as a preservative was ridiculous. Who slops goo all over their pumpkin?
Anyway, after 9 years I have decided to launch a complete study of pumpkin preservation methods. Was I giving out good advice? Is there a simple solution out there that will work? Is it easy to apply, commonly found in the home, and does it make your pumpkin last? These were questions that I hoped to answer.
I gathered up a collection of possible pumpkin preservatives and a batch of freshly picked pumpkins and went to work.
First, The Pumpkins: I acquired 14 similarly sized pumpkins from my friend's pumpkin farm. Holtz Farm in Ida, Michigan is my regular pumpkin supplier so I was comfortable asking them questions like "Were these all planted on the same day, Are they the same breed? Were they given equal water and pesticide?" You get the picture. I was starting a serious experiment and I didn't plan on tainting the results.
Second, The preservatives: I've been at this a while and I've heard lots of talk about what works and what doesn't. I tried to gather anything that seemed to have even the slimmest chance of working. Here is what I tried (from left to right in any photos): K-Y Jelly, 5% Bleach Solution, WD-40, Clear Spray Paint (clear coat), Wet Platinum Silicone Personal Lubricant, Amonia, A Control (no preservative at all), Vaseline, Hair Spray, Honda Spray Polish (automotive spray polish), Chlorox Clean-up (with Bleach), Furniture Polish, Vinegar, My Son looking like a badass, and finally, Not Carving the Pumpkin In The First Place.
Here is how it went down:
Carving the pumpkins took the longest amount of time. I used a coffee can as a template for the top opening, that way it would be the same size on each pumpkin. I then gutted each pumpkin until it was clean and reintroduced 12 pumpkin seeds (these would allow squirrels and other pests to retain equal interest in each pumpkin). I cut the eyes, nose and mouth with the same size holes by using the same paddle drill bit on each pumpkin. I carved all of the pumpkin in assembly-line fashion so that no pumpkin was left carved longer than the other. The process took approximately 4 hours.
I applied preservatives just after the completion of carving. Preservative was applied to every cut or scraped surface and the entire interior of the pumpkin. For the sprayable materials this step occurred without incident. The products that needed to be spread by hand proved to be more problematic, especially the Vaseline.
Spreadable Products: At this stage of the study, I already had one suggestion. Don't use any preservative that cannot be sprayed on a pumpkin. K-Y and Wet Platinum Silicone Lubricant, although rumored to do a great job were almost impossible to apply. These involved pouring this lube on my hand and then massaging it onto the pumpkin. Neither I nor the pumpkin appeared to enjoy this.
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was an even bigger pain in the posterior. I began with enthusiasm because many other works on pumpkin carving suggest vaseline as a pumpkin preservative. I plunged my hand into the tub of vaseline and emerged with a walnut sized stream of it. I then started rubbing it on the pumpkin which was fairly difficult. The Vaseline wanted to stay on my hand and did not seem too interested in evenly coating the pumpkin. It was like painting a comb with peanut butter. Then, when I had used up my first glob of jelly, I went to get more from the tub and upon putting my hand back into the jar I ruined its entire contents. Pumpkin guts were left behind in the vaseline jar. So long Vaseline. It is amazing that anyone every suggested you in the first place and a crime that the lie was perpetuated. I am very happy to end your reign as a suggest pumpkin preservative. Vaseline Stinks At Making Your Pumpkin Last Longer.
36 Hours Later:
Checkpoint 1 - A day and a half later I checked on the pumpkin lineup to see any initial issues and found two:
The Clear Coat Spray Painted Pumpkin cracked. I guess the lack of ability to let moisture in and out of its skin did it in. Clear Coat was off the list, I would extrapolate that shelac, Polyeurethane and other furniture finishes probably fall into this category as well.
Vinegar attracted flies. Apparently, the flies must have though my pumpkin study was some sort of delicious pickle bar. They really enjoyed the Vinegar coated pumpkin. Ick.
84 Hours After Carving:
Checkpoint 2 - The first specks of mold had started to form. Some pumpkins have more (the control (no preservative at all), the hair spray, and the vinegar) all have spots larger than the diameter of a pencil. Squirrels have eaten their way into the Vaseline, Vinegar, and furniture polish pumpkins. The Clear Coat pumpkin and the amonia pumpkin are starting to get mushy already. They are noticeably further ahead in the rotting process.
6 1/2 Days After Carving:
Checkpoint 3 - I was away doing some publicity, and I would have liked to have done another checkpoint before this one, but the results were interesting. Heavy, fuzzy mold had formed on all but 3 pumpkins. The WD-40 and the 5% bleach solution pumpkins have only slight molding. Some pumpkins have started to go soft in large areas: Amonia, Control, Vaseline, Vinegar, K-Y Jelly, Wet Silicone Personal lubricant, WD-40, 5% Bleach, Hair Spray, Honda Spray Polish (automotive spray polish), and furniture polish pumpkins are all going mushy. Vinegar, Clear Coat, and Amonia pumpkins have actually all caved in. The uncarved pumpkin is completely normal, no ill effects whatsoever.
8 1/2 Days After Carving:
Checkpoint 4 - The correct preservation product is clearly the Chlorox Cleanup With Bleach. The Chlorox pumpkin has less mold and rot than any other pumpkin. A couple of pumpkins have less mold than average, but the Chlorox Cleanup With Bleach has less rot as well. It hasn't lasted as well as the uncarved pumpkin, but it is superior to the other products.
10 1/2 Days After Carving:
Checkpoint 5 - I am going to discontinue the study here. The pumpkins are stinking up the yard and the flies are getting out of control. I will make one final conclusion: Preserving your pumpkin with Chlorox Cleanup will help keep mold and squirrels away and will allow it to last approximately twice as long as using no preservative. Chlorox Cleanup With Bleach also had no noticeable affect on the color or appearance of the pumpkin.
Conclusion: I suggest you preserve you pumpkin with Chlorox Cleanup With Bleach. It will last about twice as long than it would without any preservative.