Two days ago, I talked to my Mami (she may be Mambo Marie Carmel to everybody else, but she’ll always be Mami to me), and I asked about how everyone in Haiti was. “Oh they’re fine, but they’re waiting for me for the soup,” she said with a laugh.
Two hundred and ten years ago, everybody was waiting for the soup in Haiti, because soup, at least this soup, is a big deal. It’s called soup joumou, or “winter pumpkin soup,” and it’s the best Haitian soup ever for more than culinary reasons. I give a recipe for soup joumou in my book, Haitian Vodou, but I didn’t have the space to explain why it’s a “lucky soup,” or what the big deal about soup is.
Haiti became an independent nation on January 1, 1804, after almost thirteen unspeakably brutal years of revolution and war. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the successor to Haiti’s liberating general Toussaint L’Ouverture, declared the colony of Saint-Domingue defunct, and renamed the island Ayiti (Haiti in French) after its original Arawak (Taino indigenous language) name.
There are any number of legends about that time. One of them states that soup joumou became a symbol of independence (as well as New Year’s Day) because the French slave owners had forbidden slaves to eat it, and so they shared it with each other as an act of freedom. Is it true? No one really knows anymore, but we do know that as long as people can remember New Years Day/Haitian Independence Day in Haiti, they can remember the soup.
There are any number of soup recipes out there, public and private. There are even some good ones on the Internet. Here’s the one I shared in my book, that I know isn’t too difficult to make. If you can’t be with Haitians on Independence Day, you can at least make some yourself, and share it with your spirits if you serve the Lwa. Eating this soup is lucky and important and very good. Even if you don’t like it (that’d be surprising; I’ve got plenty of food allergies and taste issues, but I think it’s good), eat at least a spoonful, share, and enjoy.
Soup joumou: it’s what freedom tastes like. Even Haitian Jonas likes it and made up a song to go with it that makes me laugh every time i hear it. Happy birthday, Haiti!
Soup Joumou (SOUP zhoo-MOO), “Pumpkin Soup,” a lucky soup for New Year’s Day and other special occasions
1 lb. boneless beef
1 lb. boneless chicken
2 lb. joumou (Haitian pumpkin or kobucha; substitute yellow squash, winter squash, or zucchini if you can’t find joumou locally)
1 lb. green cabbage
3 large carrots
4 large red potatoes
1 yellow or white onion
2-4 cloves (black)
1 large turnip (or 2-3 small turnips, or a large African yam (not a sweet potato) )
1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice
1 hot pepper (pimiento or jalapeño), whole – do not break or cut
Part of a box (approx. 1/4 lb.) of spaghetti or vermicelli
Put beef and chicken together in a large stockpot (or pressure cooker or crock pot if you choose), and cover with enough water to boil it until tender (1.5 to 2 hours). Skim the fat that floats to the top. Add all vegetables and boil 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and remove meat from the pot. Cut meat into cubes and strain vegetables, saving the water. Set the vegetables aside. Add meat back to the water in the pot, and bring it back to a boil. Drop in the pepper, being very careful not to break it; it is for aroma, not taste. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Once pasta is tender, add the vegetables back to the soup, bring to a final boil, cool, and serve warm.