Butternut squash primed for Soup Joumou, or New Year’s Day pumpkin soup

Apye nou ye is the Haitian Creole expression for Happy New Year! Say it fast and you’ll see that, although literally translated from Creole it seems to mean “We go on foot,” it actually sounds very much like the English words “Happy New Year.” And that’s not surprising, because it supposedly came into fashion as a Haitian New Year’s greeting during the U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915 – 1934), when marines would greet Haitian passersby with those words.


Beef marinated and ready to go in the soup

New Year’s Day is also Haitian Independence Day (Jan 1, 1804). On that day in Haiti, people who can afford to do so eat pumpkin soup.

The story goes this way: Pumpkin soup was a treasured food of the French masters of Haiti: it’s made with marinated beef bits and a luscious orange squash puree, and contains a multitude of vegetables. Slaves were not allowed to eat it, and couldn’t even if they had been permitted,  because they couldn’t afford beef or the time it takes to deal with the squash (and I speak from experience there: it takes a long time to push that squash through a sieve and make it fine and light).

So of course the natural thing, having thrown off the shackles of slavery and kicked the French back to European shores, was to cook up a batch of this fantastic soup. Now it’s tradition to sit down to this on New Year’s/Independence Day.

Still, you can be pretty sure that the 357,000-plus descendants of Toussaint Louverture, Henri Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines who are living in 3-year-old tent-and-tarp earthquake camps today in Port-au-Prince and its environs are not dining off this sumptuous soup.

Though come to think of it, maybe some of them are. Haitians — in the grand, age-old tradition of human beings in bad situations — have a way of managing and scraping and coming up with things: especially when it’s about food. You can’t imagine how good a simple spaghetti Creole tastes when cooked by Haitians, no matter how dreadful their living conditions, or canned sardines and rice, or riz national (dark beans and rice). So I like to think, or at least to hope, that in some of those tents in some of those camps a bit of beef is floating amid a soup made of orange squash.

(I’ll post the final result of my poor Los Angeles imitation Soup Joumou tomorrow.)