Prior to 1999, the year I met Chris – my fiancé the father of my child, I didn’t have any knowledge of the Haitian culture. Chris and Symone’s heritage goes back to the country of Haiti by way of his father. Unfortunately the language, mannerisms, food and history passed when Chris was younger. Raised primarily by his black American mother, there are stories but not the same history from the mouth of someone that was was born and raised in Haiti.
The connection to Haiti is so far for my daughter. With that in mind, we try to have her interested in her family’s past. Without thinking anything of it, it was disclosed that her father’s, father’s family were descendants of France. In my baby’s mind, she is a French Haitian (is this even a thing?) who speaks no type of Creole and just started pronouncing her last name correctly. With all this talk of their background and culture, I decided to make the soup that celebrates the freedom of the Haitian people from slavery. As black Americans, grab their black eyed peas and collard greens for the new year traditions, Haitians get beef, pumpkins, and all other types of vegetables for a labor intensive meal for New Year’s Day with a fancy name of Soup Joumou .
When I first had the soup at my mother-in law’s house, I didn’t think anything of it. Beef, vegetables, seasonings, it was all good. We would have second servings that day and would have more and more over the course of a few days after. Never did I think or even know that this soup was a version of the Haitian Pumpkin Soup that was a symbol of a celebration. Creating the soup myself, years later, I see that there are similarities, but the two soups are not the same. Let me take you down the journey of this version of Haitian Pumpkin Soup that I made for my little Haitian family.
So, let me confess that I have not actually tasted a real version of this Haitian soup. I have not stepped into a restaurant or had the privilege to be invited to a dinner where the soup was the main and only course. With that said, I only had two soups in my mind to guide me through this process, my own beef stew and my mother in law’s oxtail soup. I started searching the internet, instagram, pinterest, any source for a simple recipe with a great finished soup image that would make me want it. I came across a recipe on Epicurious that worked fine for me – simple enough to follow. I even went as far as to create the base for the soup called, Epis. I found a recipe for that on Savory Thoughts.
So with all the ingredients bought, washed and cut, I proceeded to place them in the blender just as described. Chile, let me say that maybe I had one too many red and yellow peppers or not enough green onion but my epis was not looking like the image in the recipe. AND spice was very present from that little teaspoon of cayenne. Throughout the meal, my dramatic child devoured so much milk. I didn’t think it was THAT spicy, if anything it was just enough especially since I did not purchase a scotch bonnet pepper. That may have had her move out and declare me the worst cook in America. <– insert side eye for the dramatics. When all was mixed, tested and placed in 3 jars, we were still discussing the spice that I didn’t even get a picture. smh.
The next day, I used the epis to season the meat as instructed in the recipe. Chris’s mom used oxtails instead of cubed meat and beef bones. So I decided to use oxtails for the bones and meat and stew beef. Being familiar with this part of the recipe, I just start browning the meat, because that’s where the flavor comes in along with the epis. Except, this was not in the Joumou recipe. Most, if not all pictures I saw had a more orange broth from the pumpkin, mine as you’ll see in a image later is more on the brown side. Bare with me, it’s my first time making it.
It didn’t take long for Chris to brown the meat and then with a slight deglaze of the pan to get all that goodness up from the pan. Put the meat back in the pan with about three bottles, of vegetable stock. Recipes say you can use any type of stock but stuck with vegetable, since if you think about it, it’s a vegetable soup with the added flavor of meat. So if you are vegan, you can easily follow these recipes and just omit the meat part or add your version of meat which really isn’t meat, but to you it would be and thus you could use it. I will just stop now before I go into the whole vegan oxtail foolishness.
Do you see all that seasoning in this pot? That epis was just swimming in there with the vegetable stock. Why you ask? Because somebody, not naming his Haitian name, decided to throw the remaining bottle of epis in the pan. He said it needs it. How would he know it needed it? Did he not recall his daughter’s reaction to the cayenne in that tiny bit she tested? lol Too late to go back now and in any case, it did have the apartment smelling like a Caribbean lived there – at least for the day.
I was so tired at this point but couldn’t sit down or else I would have fallen asleep and it was New Year’s Eve. There was much more to do, such as cut up the pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and other veggies and allow it all to marinate on a simmer for about and hour after the meat has been stewing. And make some sorrel. Yum!
The flavor of the soup was very tasty if I do say so myself. Of course if someone didn’t pour the whole jar of epis into the pan, maybe it wouldn’t have been as spicy but it was tolerable to me. I’ve had jerk seasoned chicken from the side of a Jamaican rode, I think a tiny teaspoon of cayenne wasn’t going to kill me. Although we haven’t had any traditional Haitian pumpkin soup, this version minus the scotch bonnet and a few hiccups along the recipe route, it came out delicious. I may have to try it again before the winter leaves us. Do you see that broth? Not orange right? I need more pumpkin or just won’t brown the meat before hand. There’s always next time.