Hand-carved jack-o-lanterns rarely last more than a few days to a week. As soon as you carve a pumpkin, it starts to shrivel. It usually begins to rot, as well, especially if it gets too cold, too hot or too damp.

Therefore, it may make more sense to paint pumpkins, they’ll often last through the entire fall season.

Carved or whole, however, any jack-o-lantern will quickly lose quality if the pumpkin isn’t fully ripe. Before buying, try sticking your thumbnail through the rind. If you can, shop further. If you can’t, the pumpkin has set, so it isn’t likely to dry out so fast.

Good pumpkins can be perfectly round or lopsided. But steer clear of those that have blemishes or soft spots. Select ones that almost seems too heavy for its size. A stem on top can be important, too, because stemless pumpkins can collect water on top anywhere between the growing field and your front walk. They can be spoiling even before you buy and take one home.

Ideal storage sites often keep pumpkins fresh for up to three months. These sites provide dry conditions and cool, but not freezing temperatures. Remember to remove bacteria and molds before carving or painting a jack-o-lantern.

Wipe the surfaces with a household disinfectant or a solution that combines one part bleach to 10 parts water. If you do want to carve your pumpkin, then try this method. You can expect to get a week’s life from a carved pumpkin, by disinfecting and spreading petroleum jelly on all the cut surfaces. Then keep your jack-o-lantern as cool and dry as you can.

What kind of knife should you use for carving pumpkins?

Experienced cooks often say the only safe knife is a sharp knife. But that’s not necessarily true when it comes to carving raw pumpkins.

Using a big, sharp butcher’s knife is probably the most dangerous way to make a jack-o-lantern, because that kind of pumpkin’s rind is so hard and tough.

If children are going to help carve, parents should invest in one of the pumpkin-carving kits available at most discount and grocery stores. It will include a knife that isn’t sharp. Because the knife is serrated, it will cut through a pumpkin just fine and with much less risk to the people involved in the carving.

Jack-o-lantern pumpkins can translate into good eating, if prepared and cooked before they begin to shrink and spoil. But they aren’t the varieties actually being produced now for best eating. The varieties for the cooking market have thinner skins, which are safer to cut with a sharp knife. They have less watery flesh and tend to be smaller than the varieties grown for holiday decorations. These cooking pumpkins are usually sold under such labels as pie pumpkin, sweet pumpkin or the like.

Are pumpkins nutritious?

Its bright orange color is a signal that a pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotine an important antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. Research suggests a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of hardening of the arteries, stroke, heart attack, certain types of cancer and some of the degenerative aspects of aging.

Pumpkin also is a good source of potassium and contains a range of other nutrients, as well as appetite-curbing fiber. Plus, a cooked cup of it has just 49 calories. See, there’s more to pumpkins than just meets the eye! Good luck with your pumpkin ventures this fall.