food, history, rural life, and how we connect our cultural past and future
Winter Squash Soup
Leni’s Squash, Yam and Roasted Sweet Pepper Soup
Butternut or other Winter squash
Red Jewel Yams
Curry Powder (optional – a very small amount – it’s just an accent)
Sweet Peppers – yellow and red
Half & Half
Peel, deseed and cube the Squash.
Peel, and cube the Yam
In water just to cover, simmer both vegetables together till tender. Cool.
Roast the peppers over an open flame, rotating often, or sear in a very hot oven till the skin blackens and you can peel it away from the flesh. Remove the stem, all seeds, the loose skin and any membranes. Dice the flesh.
Chop onion medium and gently sauté in butter till transparent, add diced roasted pepper. Cook on low till very tender. Add the optional Curry Powder. Cool
Puree the two mixtures together in a heavy bottomed pot.
Add half and half to desired thickness. Season with the curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep at a very low heat till hot enough to serve. Be careful not to boil the soup.
You’ll notice I didn’t give any amounts – this is one of those dishes you can make for two or twenty.
Butternut squash is a member of a huge world-wide family of cucurbita. Some squashes, such as Butternut and Hubbard (cucurbita maxima) originated in the Old World. Arabic sources describe their use and cultivation by numerous West African cultures as early as 1342, and they had likely been in the food repertory for a thousand years before that date. Others in this family, such as the Summer Squashes and Pumpkins (cucurbita pepo and cucurbita melopepo) were domesticated in the New World in both Mezzo-America and among the North American Indians. These squashes were part of the food complex know as the Three Sisters – maize, beans, and squash – and all were grown simultaneously in the same field. It is no wonder that the qualities of New World cucurbita were recognized and welcomed into African foodways when they began to be introduced on the African continent in the early 15th c.
‘Red Jewel’ Yams are actually Sweet Potatoes, not yams at all. The yam that inspired festivals and ritual throughout many African societies is dioscorea cayenensis and d. rotundata, native to the Old World Tropics. True yam tubers “contain a poisonous alkaloid, dioscorine, which in some species occurs in considerable quantity; in other, edible, species, it occurs only in small amounts which can quite easily be removed by repeated washing, and particularly by cooking.” (Lewicki, 50)
Within several New World cultures, especially those in the Caribbean, the sweet potato (imopaea batata) was an early and important vegetable. It has been cultivated since at least 1000 BCE. The varieties come in colors ranging from a white interior with a rough brown exterior (still commonly available in the Caribbean) to the long narrow tuber with bright yellow stringy flesh and pale tan skin (still commonly called sweet potatoes in American markets) to the very round, large, deep purple-orange skinned and deeply orange fleshed variety we, most often these days, call ‘yams’.
Imopaea batata was introduced into Africa beginning in the early 16th century, initially as a food to be cultivated as provisions for the Middle Passage of the slave trade. Because of the ease of cultivation and preparation, yet having a similar taste to cooked ‘yam,’ the sweet potato was quickly adopted into West African foodways. Equally quickly the two names began to be used indiscriminately for both of those vegetables. By the early 19th century sweet potatoes (imopaea batata) were being grown in large areas of the American South. Depending on your place of birth you might call them sweet potatoes or yams.
Peppers are of the family Solanaceae and the genus capsicum annuum. The hot varieties are commonly called chilies and both the hot and sweet types are native to Central and South America. Beginning in the early 16th century peppers were introduced into various Old World cultures where they quickly became staples loved by both cooks and horticulturists; the Hungarian paprika pepper, the Chinese Szechwan, the Thailand Red Devil among many others. The red and yellow varieties of sweet peppers have 4-times the Vitamin C as an orange! The addition of such a valuable source of vitamin C in the Old World was one of the great nutritional benefits of food transference in the early modern period.
Lewicki, Tadeusz. West African Food in the Middle Ages: According to Arabic Sources. Cambridge University Press, 1974