It's the Great Pumpkin

Discover all that this versatile seasonal food can become with your child.
By Ellen Booth Church



It's the Great Pumpkin

Remember Linus from the Peanuts gang camping out in the pumpkin patch under the moon, waiting patiently for the Great Pumpkin to rise up and bestow gifts on all the girls and boys? While it didn't work out for Linus exactly as planned, he was right about one thing: Pumpkins are great! They have become the icon of October, the stuff of legends, and the key ingredient in many tasty recipes. These orange orbs have inspired all sorts of things including classic stories, crazy crafts, and delicious breads, soups, desserts, and main dish foods.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with a question. After purchasing a pumpkin or two, you might ask your child, "What can we do with our pumpkin?" Be ready for some funny answers! One 4-year-old boy said his would make a great (but messy) basketball, while a 5-year-old girl said she wanted to turn hers into a carriage just like Cinderella's!

Perfect Pumpkin Play
Pumpkins, with their vibrant colors and odd shapes, can capture your child's imagination and offer tremendous learning opportunities.

  • Visit a pumpkin patch. There is nothing like the fun of picking out your very own pumpkin right from the field where it grew up! Make it a challenge by asking your child to look for a pumpkin he thinks is the same size as his head. Back home you can use a piece of string to measure the circumference of each in order to find out which "head" is bigger. 
  • Make a pumpkin head. Your young child will delight in making a simple pumpkin face using markers and collage materials. Get creative, and look for recycled materials that can be glued on for features, hair, or a hat.
  • Have a pumpkin party. Decorate with pumpkin cutouts and jack-o-lanterns, and serve pumpkin dishes. Create a pumpkin-shaped cake. Cover a bundt cake with orange frosting and create a stem by placing a wafer ice cream cone upside down in the center hole. 
  • Read about pumpkins. We love The Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson, Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll, and It's Pumpkin Time by Zoe Hall. For more great pumpkin-themed books, check out our pumpkin book list.


What else can a pumpkin become? It's the main ingredient in these two delicious dishes.

  • Pumpkin Pancakes with Cinnamon Maple Syrup

Serve these for a weekend breakfast treat! Makes about 16 4" pancakes.

What you need:

  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup 100% pure canned pumpkin
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for oiling pan

What to do:

  1. Pour maple syrup into a small saucepan and add the cinnamon stick. Cook over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, set aside, and allow the cinnamon to steep in the maple syrup.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl ask your child to measure and add milk, pumpkin, egg, vanilla, and oil, and combine well. Add reserved dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and combine lightly just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  4. Preheat griddle or skillet on medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles in the pan, brush lightly with oil. Pour approximately ¼ cup batter for each pancake. When the tops bubble and the edges look dry, turn with a spatula and cook until the underside is golden.
  5. Remove from pan and serve immediately or keep warm on a platter in a low oven. Serve with warm cinnamon maple syrup.
  • Pumpkin Soup

Read Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper and prepare this surprisingly tasty soup together. Yum! Makes about 5 cups.

What you need:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low sodium
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 15 oz. can 100% pure pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

What to do:

  1. Heat a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, garlic, potato, sage, and nutmeg. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add 3 cups chicken broth, cover pan, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes. 
  3. Working in small batches, invite your child to help you puree the potato mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return soup to the pan.
  4. Whisk in the remaining 2 cups broth, pumpkin, maple syrup and Parmesan. Add salt and pepper if desired. Heat on medium low for about 10 minutes.
  5. Divide into servings, top with croutons (optional), and serve.
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