Pumpkins rotting on vine

How to Keep a Pumpkin From Rotting so it Lasts All Season

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By Drea Damara – I used to run a produce business and this time of year as people searched our stock for the pumpkins they chose to take home, they would ask, “Will this pumpkin last through Thanksgiving?” Most folks want to know how to keep a pumpkin from rotting. No one wants to go to all the trouble of finding decent pumpkins and paying for them, especially if you have a big family who is active at carving them. Like any other investment, you want to protect your purchase. Well, pumpkins were a living thing before they came to your doorstep, so, unfortunately, they do have a shelf-life. There are, however, a few things you can do to keep your pumpkins from rotting early on in the holiday season.

How Do I Pick the Right Pumpkin?

Like any other species of vegetable, pumpkins come in many varieties. My family grew more than 30 different varieties of pumpkins and we were a small business, busy planting pumpkin seeds in spring and selling our product come fall. Perhaps you didn’t know there were so many different types of pumpkins since they all appear round and orange for the most part. Well, that is a good start, so don’t fret and think you need to research pumpkin varieties before you go shopping. My first point of advice is to avoid any pumpkins that have a yellow tint to them. You don’t need to inspect them closely, just stand back if there are many crowded together and you should be able to notice if there are any that seem paler or have a yellowish hue to them. This is usually a good indicator that the pumpkin will rot within the next two to three weeks, or at least sooner than one of the same variety with deep orange flesh. Also, as you’re picking out pumpkins, you may wonder, can chickens eat pumpkin seeds? Yes, they can. So you may want to pick up a few extras for your feathered friends.

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What About the Pumpkin Stem?

A dry or brittle stem is not an indicator that a pumpkin will have a short shelf-life. There are different diseases that pumpkins can get, which can cause their stems to become very brittle, breaking upon the slightest touch. One pumpkin disease can have the opposite effect on the stem, causing it to become spongy and squishy to the touch. What about a pumpkin with no stem? If a pumpkin has lost its stem, the “fruit” can still last as long as a pumpkin that has a stem. The stem is like an umbilical cord. It simply served its purpose to feed the pumpkin when it was on the vine – it no longer needs it after it’s born. If you want to get really picky when you’re picking – see what I did there? – a brittle or missing stem is probably better than the squishy stem. A final pointer on stems – they are not handles. If you like the look of a pumpkin with a stem, then don’t pick one up by the stem. Pumpkins often cannot hold their own weight, kind of like me after Thanksgiving dinner. So do yourself and the guy selling the pumpkins a favor, don’t try to show off your muscles by hoisting that big round sucker up onto your shoulder by the stem. You and the pumpkin won’t look very cool after it snaps off, rolls down your back, bashes into your shin like a bowling ball, and then thuds onto the ground.

How Else Can I Determine the Shelf-Life of a Pumpkin?

Growing pumpkins, when ripe, will have dry tendrils. These are not usually present when farmers, vendors, and especially chain stores sell pumpkins, as they are taken off during the harvesting process. However, if those little spiral tendrils are still affixed to the stem, check if they are dry. Dry tendrils are a sign that the pumpkin was ripe and ready to be picked. Pumpkins rot from the bottom, so you can also apply just a little pressure to the bottom of the pumpkin. Tilt it back, and while grasping it, just press your fingers on the bottom of the pumpkin. If the flesh gives at all, I’d move onto another one. This is as much as you’ll need to know about picking the right pumpkin. Once you get your pumpkins home, there are a few things you can do to preserve your pumpkin.

How Do I Preserve My Pumpkin?

Just like your flowers, once a frost touches your pumpkin’s flesh, it will to shut down and die. When the frost is on the pumpkin…it will soon act like a melting candle. First, you will see the skin become waxy and dull in appearance. You may even see a ring form around the top of the pumpkin, which will show you where the layer of frost was that got your little fella’. To prevent your pumpkin from being hurt by frost, you can simply cover it with a towel, blanket, or tarp. If you don’t mind toting it inside and watch the weather for frost warnings, you can simply bring the pumpkins indoors on evenings when you know the temperature will dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pumpkins Can Be Dangerous to Your Floors

Just a word of warning, if you choose to bring your poor little pumpkins inside to get them out of the cold. Pumpkins are not kind to wood flooring. If a pumpkin is set directly on a wood floor and rots, the juices from the rotting vegetable are potent enough to strip the stain from your varnished floors. This can easily be avoided by placing a paper plate under each pumpkin in your home if you do choose to display them on your floor. Paper plates often have low edges so it won’t detract from the visual appeal of your pumpkin display and it is worth the annoyance to avoid ruining your flooring.

You’d Check on a Pie, so Check on a Pumpkin

Have you ever had a puppy? They look so cute at first, but then you realize how much attention they need after you’ve had them for a while. When we grew pumpkins for sale, we would walk through the display of pumpkins every day and tilt each back and give them the finger squeeze at the base to see if they were beginning to rot. No one likes to clean up a messy pumpkin. Every few days, check on your pumpkin to see where it is at in its shelf-life. If you don’t get to it in time before it starts to lose its bottom, I have a suggestion for the most mess-free way to get rid of it. Use a shovel. Just slide a flat shovel underneath the bottom of the pumpkin if it has gone rotten. This will ensure you scoop up all the seeds and slime that might ooze out, once you lift it. It is a much better method than picking it up from the stem or the top. Pumpkins often surprise us, especially if you aren’t familiar with them. The top can feel very firm, while the bottom may be completely rotted out – deceiving little buggers!

What are your tips for how to keep a pumpkin from rotting?

And that’s the word from my neck of the woods. – Drea

How Long Does A Pumpkin Last?

Pumpkin shoppers should be on the look out for a pumpkin with a firm stem, or handle, still attached. Fifteen-month-old Lucy Myers searches for a pumpkin at Patterson Fruit Farm Oct. 18, in Chesterland, Ohio.

Tony Dejak/AP hide caption toggle caption Tony Dejak/AP

Pumpkin shoppers should be on the look out for a pumpkin with a firm stem, or handle, still attached. Fifteen-month-old Lucy Myers searches for a pumpkin at Patterson Fruit Farm Oct. 18, in Chesterland, Ohio.

Tony Dejak/AP

It’s pumpkins’ moment in the limelight. They’re all over the place, breaking records, getting makeovers by master carvers, moonlighting as cameras, and even ending up in the bowls of lucky dogs.

That’s all fine and good, but some of us could use some pumpkin basics. For example, we were curious just how long a pumpkin can last, carved or uncarved?

Steve Reiners, a horticulturist at Cornell University, says it depends on the state of the pumpkin and the weather.

“If the pumpkin was healthy when picked and diseases were controlled in the field, the pumpkin can last 8 to 12 weeks,” he says via email. He adds jack-o-lanterns don’t fare as well: They last five to 10 days.

The best storage temperature for pumpkins ranges between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, he says. But cold weather can cut into a pumpkin’s lifespan. A little light frost might cause a little discoloration; but the pumpkin won’t fare well if temperature drop below freezing.

“Freezing temperatures damage the plant cells just like they would with any living organism,” he says. “If the pumpkin actually freezes, once it warms up, the skin can soften, which may open it up to … rot.”

But where freezing can come handy is preserving the pumpkin pulp. The University of Nebraska has a number of good tips on how get the nutritious meat out and what to do with it.

When searching for a pumpkin, Reiners says it’s important to find one with a firm stem, or handle, still attached. “That’s a great indicator of how healthy it is,” he says. When the stem is rubbery and weak, “chances are rot organisms will start to soften the pumpkin quickly.” But once you find a firm stem, be gentle — it’s better to carry to pumpkin around the fruit.

Once the carving begins, leave the stem on, experts say. It’s still providing the pumpkin with some nutrients that will keep it pretty and orange for several more days.

Reiners says there are more than 200 varieties of Halloween-type pumpkins — which can range from one pound to 150 pounds — in the species Cucurbita pepo. And some squash in the related species, Cucurbita maxima, may be considered pumpkins, too. (Read more on cooking with newer kind of squash in Bonny Wolf’s piece for Kitchen Window last year.)

But Reiners says he won’t be buying any pumpkins, large or small, this year. One perk of knowing so much about pumpkins is that you usually find a way to get them for free.

Fine, the spiritual battle over Halloween Creep is over and lost. Orange-and-black themed retail begins as soon as Back to School is over, and Back to School starts around the Fourth of July, and that’s just that. Adults want to spend the entire month of October dressing up as a Sexy Tower-Climbing Raccoon or whatever; nobody’s going to win the argument now.

It’s the logistics that are still incomprehensible. When bins of pumpkins show up outside the supermarket while everyone’s wearing shorts or summer dresses, I don’t feel like it’s a good time to get a jump on my Halloween shopping. I just wonder what’s supposed to happen when you buy one of those warm summer pumpkins and keep it sitting around the house for a few weeks, before carving time arrives.

My guess would be it rots, like most other fruits you keep around the house would rot. But then why do people buy them? It would be nonsensical for the whole pumpkin-selling schedule to be set up that way.

So I let the clock run for a while, but then pumpkins were on sale, so I added a couple to my grocery order, delivered two weeks before Halloween. My younger son complained that they were too small, and I told him he was free in future years to go buy however big a pumpkin he wanted, as long as he carried it home himself. This year, however, he was going to use the little pumpkins we’d already bought, because the pumpkin question was settled.

And then yesterday I threw the first of the pumpkins in the trash, because it was caving in and starting to ooze. The second one will go in the trash today.

NPR found an expert a few years ago to say that an intact pumpkin should keep for “8 to 12 weeks,” if it’s healthy and hasn’t been frozen. And if it’s stored “between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit,” which is not a temperature that’s available anywhere in my apartment. (The same expert said jack-o’-lanterns keep five to 10 days, which is about four days longer than our jack-o’-lanterns last.) Does this work for anyone? Maybe it worked for people who owned porches, back when autumn still happened in the first half of October. Maybe it’s time to switch to turnips.

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