Pumped up/Souped up

by by Ann Crawford-Roberts

When I walk down foliage-littered sidewalks with the sound of crunching underfoot, when I close my windows at night and bury under the covers against the chill outside, when I leave my afternoon seminar to a sky already beginning to darken, I know autumn has arrived. The time is here to savor the harvest tastes that warm the body and soul. And with the Farmer’s Market produce shifting from grapes and tomatoes to sweet potatoes and squash, what’s an aspiring cook to do but make her own batch of pumpkin soup?

Umpteen Pumpkins
Despite its common association with Thanksgiving, Squanto, and New England pride, the first mention of pumpkin soup in America does not appear until the mid-nineteenth century. Popular memory places the origins of pumpkin soup on the island of Hispaniola in 1804. On New Year’s Day of that year, Haiti declared its independence from France, honoring the occasion with soup “joumou” (pronounced joo-moo, meaning squash, for pumpkin is technically a squash). To celebrate their newfound freedom, Haitians cooked this stew with beef and pumpkin—luxuries formerly reserved for the French ruling class. Pumpkin soup was brought to America by Haitian immigrants. It became well known up and down the Eastern seaboard. Eventually, the soup found its way into a cookbook of classic New England recipes and onto our Thanksgiving tables.

Smile – N - Error
Inspired by the bounties of the Farmer’s Market, I sought a pumpkin soup recipe fit for this New England fall. I discovered my prize at the Apple Festival at the Young Family Farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island. This thick purée of squash, pumpkin, and apple was served against a backdrop of bluegrass music and pumpkin painting. Warmed by the soup and the scene before me, I could not miss out on the chance to re-create the meal. After tracking down the recipe, I saw that it was surprisingly straightforward. However, my dorm kitchen and time constraints called for some experimentation.
It turns out that pumpkin, while a playful decoration, is not so easily turned into soup. It is a pain to peel and purée, and the bland taste is not worth the effort. For a more concentrated flavor, and a lot less aggravation, go for a can of pure pumpkin instead. Use those pumpkins for what they’re made for: jack-o-lanterns. Carving ghost faces on pumpkins is more fun than puréeing anyway. Caution: if you do decide to brave the fresh pumpkin, best to go at it alone. A frustrated cook with a 12-inch chopping knife is not a pretty picture.
The original recipe also recommended an hour of simmering, but I found that the soup came together in half the time. Toss in the bread and fruit at the same time and allow them to simmer together. Enjoy the saved time by reading this week’s Independent.
The final step, after adding a medley of autumn spices, is to purée the soup. You could use an immersion blender, but a regular old blender works just fine. With the final touches of cream and autumn spices, the smells of cinnamon and squash fill the room, and the soup is ready to be slurped up. Serve in hollowed out sugar pumpkins for an extra wow factor—and don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds.
This soup looks impressive despite its simplicity. Sweet and hearty and a comfort against the cold, it is a delicious accompaniment to infant-sized costumes, glowing grimaces, and all things pumpkin this Halloween.

Pumpkin-Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tbs. butter
1 tbs. rosemary
1 can of pure pumpkin purée
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup apple cider (optional: if using, add only 3 cups of broth)
3 apples or pears (or a combination of both), chopped
3 slices of French bread, in cubes
1 cup light cream
½ tsp each salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, allspice, sage
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat butter and rosemary over medium high heat. Add the squash, onion, and pumpkin and cook at medium until the squash softens. Add vegetable broth (and some apple cider if you’re feeling adventurous) and bring to a boil. Add fruit and bread and let simmer for thirty minutes. Transfer entire mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Return to pot and add cream. Once the purée has returned to a simmer, add spices, stir, and serve.