Updated: Jul 31, 2019
I’m presuming that if you’re reading this article, you have already picked out the perfect pumpkin to carve. If you haven’t read that article, be sure to check it out to avoid some problems people commonly experience.
But knowing how life (work, kids, chores, etc.) gets in the way, you might not get to carve that pumpkin for a week or two. If so, you’re probably wondering how to preserve whole pumpkins so that they stay fresh for as long as possible.
Even with the perfect pumpkin, you can do several things that will work against you and potentially ruin the final product you worked so hard to achieve. We’ll discuss how to keep pumpkins longer, and outline the most important things you can do to make them last.
How to Clean a Pumpkin
First, be sure to wash your pumpkin well. No, don’t give it a bath in hot soapy water. Simply dump a capful of bleach into a small bucket or bowl of warm water, and use a durable rag to wipe the exterior rind of the pumpkin with the solution.
This helps clean off any remaining dirt or mud, but also kills any bacteria that might try to gain a foothold in the decomposition process once the flesh is exposed. After it’s been cleaned and disinfected, dry it thoroughly with a soft towel before storing it.
Pumpkin Storage Temperature
The next step is very simple, but overlooked. If you want to know how to preserve uncarved pumpkins, you simply need to keep them dry and cool. That’s over 90% of the battle, in my experience. As long as they stay relatively dry and chilled, they can continue even with soft spots and dirt for a long time.
This can be tricky to accomplish in the early season months when temperatures still creep into the seventies on occasion, but do your best. You can even store it in a refrigerator if you have extra space and a patient family to deal with your temporary displacement of the leftovers. Let’s be real, I’ve never been willing to trade delicious pulled pork leftovers for storing pumpkins, but it’s an option if you have a spare.
On the flip side, you don’t want your pumpkin storage space to freeze either. Freezing breaks down the tissue and will create a soft, spongy pumpkin. That’s definitely not what you want (trust me on that). Pumpkin storage space temperatures hovering between 33 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit seem to work best.
Treat Them like Vampires
After many trials on my part, the garlic and holy water never seemed to help. But it’s important to keep your pumpkins out of direct sunlight for the same reasons above. Direct sunlight is often hot in the late summer/early fall, and the ultraviolet rays will start to destroy and dehydrate the pumpkin.
You can display your pumpkin if you wish, but it will reduce the effective lifespan once you start carving them. The best pumpkin storage areas will be covered and away from direct sunlight.
Best Place to Store Pumpkins
Speaking of how to store pumpkins, it’s a question I debated for years. One thing is absolutely certain: do not store your pumpkins in your house. It’s way too warm for them to last very long. Considering everything, one of the best places I’ve found for long-term pumpkin storage is in a cool basement, root cellar, or garage. It is generally cool enough throughout the day, yet insulated enough to not freeze at night. If your pumpkin storage space does drop below freezing at night, toss a blanket over the top of them.
Another thing you should consider is moisture. As we mentioned, you want to keep your uncarved pumpkins dry, but you don’t want the humidity so low that they dehydrate. For that reason, don’t place pumpkins directly on a concrete garage floor, because the porous floor will suck moisture from the pumpkin over time (I've learned the hard way). Instead, place your pumpkin on a sheet of cardboard or blanket, which insulates it from the temperature swings and moisture-sucking nature of the concrete. After the pumpkins are carved, you’ll want to treat them differently, which is the topic of a future post.
Try It Yourself
Following these methods, I have been buying and storing pumpkins until Halloween for years. It’s possible to store fresh pumpkins for weeks without them developing soft spots or otherwise deteriorating. I doubt you would possibly need to store them this long before carving, so you should be just fine.
Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve used these techniques at home, and how they worked for you.