Youngest Sister (Y.S.) called me one evening only a few days after we’d had a long chat on the phone for her birthday. My immediate reaction was to secretly panic… “oh God please don’t let her want me to go wedding dress shopping”. Yes, it was the sister who is the bride to be.
Sweet relief was mine, when she asked “how do you make your pumpkin soup?… now”. Y.S. understands the recipe evolves over the years. And remembers her mother’s adventurous substitution of cottage cheese for ricotta during the epoch of the low fat version… served as a warming starter at our brother’s winter 21st birthday party.
I’m not sure how I came to be the pumpkin soup guru of the family. Possibly because Dad is open in his dislike for pumpkin… “cow food”. Pumpkin wasn’t much on our menu, and never pumpkin soup.
My history with pumpkin soup started back in the 80’s. Before Y.S. was born. Back then it hit fashionable restaurant mini-tureens with a swirl of cream and garnish of parsley. Also fashionable were high waisted jeans, shoulder pads, pedal pushers, leggings & legwarmers, and colours so bright you needed to wear shades. Wayfarers of course. My hair was scrunch styled with mousse and ultimately sacrificed to a long curly perm.
Contrary to fashion trends, preparing 80’s pumpkin soup was a plain affair. Women’s Weekly inspired, I took pumpkin soup into my kitchen. I peeled pumpkin and potato pieces and boiled them with a little onion in stock, blended with cream, and served with extra obligatory creamy dollop.
Eventually the advent of dairy fats as cholesterol demons meant cream was ostracised. In the late 80’s early 90’s when I worked at Jenny Craig, low fat ruled my life. Cream substitutes reigned in forms such as evaporated skim milk, and the low fat ricotta cheese (no, not cottage cheese) that found its way into my pumpkin soup. Parsley alone remained as garnish.
Along with the re-advent of Hippy fashion in the mid 90’s when I smoothed my hair and fluffed up my wardrobe with floral dresses, lace blouses, and gypsy tops I dumped Jenny Craig and low fat, and discovered olive oil. My new-age pumpkin soup comprised sautéed peeled pumpkin and potato and onion in olive oil, the softened pieces simmered in stock before being blended into a healthy soup. Somewhere along the way I lost my passion for parsley.
It was also trendy to combine the pumpkin soup with lentils or carrot, adding middle eastern spices to create an even funkier soup. Later in the 90’s Thai became the new black, and armed with a can opener I embellished with coconut cream, a smidgen of curry paste, garnished with coriander and slivers of chili.
While Noughties fashion has been described as a “mash-up” with influences from all over the place and past eras, soup got simple. It was the early Noughties when a co-worker gave me first a sample then a recipe for cauliflower soup. Simmer cauliflower in stock and blend. That’s it. A revelation. Soup was just soup. I made carrot, sometimes carrot & sweet corn, potato & broccoli/mushroom/leek/green pea… but plain soup.
That formula didn’t work for pumpkin. The ultimate pumpkin soup is made with peeled pumpkin pieces, potatoes if desired, onion and garlic tossed in olive oil, roasted quickly in a very hot oven then blended up. I make this when I can persuade the G.O. to undertake all that peeling for me.
A decade later, pumpkin soup, and good food, has undergone a transformation to slow food, real food. Veges are home grown or sourced from a farmers market. Provenance counts both with food and fashion. Authentic, local and sustainable are the benchmarks.
Mostly I make the simplified version… I buy 4 quarters of pumpkin, or for a whole I ask the G.O. to cut it in 4. I have no desire to carry out a D.I.Y. amputation. I scrape out the seeds, give it a good wash then completely wrap each pumpkin piece in foil, shiny side out. I peel the papery outside skin only off 2 large brown onions, and similarly wrap them in foil. Ditto for a couple of garlic cloves – quantity depends on how much garlic flavour you like.
It all goes on a tray and bakes in a hot oven for about an hour, checking and taking out the onion and garlic earlier, when my nose tells me it’s ready. After everything is cool, no oocchyy ouchy fingers, the soft inside bits I scrape into a big saucepan, adding a big glug of olive oil, ground rock or sea salt, white pepper and gradually stock, blending with a stick blender until it’s the smooth glossy consistency I’m aiming for.
What do I wear while I’m doing this? If you read my previous post, you’ve probably guessed right.
Although my recipe is tweaked, I do have a future plan for my pumpkin soup… In it I’m wearing my usual garb: old jeans and a t-shirt, plus work boots and a baseball cap. My nails have dirt under them. The recipe starts with… throw a handful of pumpkin seeds into the back corner of the garden…
Note: Stock = vegetable or chicken.
If too much pumpkin is never enough:
Pumpkin Nook quotes – To err is human, a pumpkin is divine… and more.