Soup joumou: A Haitian New Year tradition, a reminder of a slave-led revolution
Two Haitian women are haggling over the cost of carrots and green squash along a sidewalk in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood.
They're standing at Bernadette Dubreide's fruit and vegetable stand on Northeast Second Avenue. Regulars call her Madam Dubreide.
Just days before the New Year, Dubreide adds new offerings besides her usual bananas, oranges and sugar cane.
A separate fold-out table holds nearly all of the ingredients for Haitian pumpkin soup: cabbage, carrots, turnips, scotch bonnet peppers and green or yellow squash that must be just the right fleshy orange on the inside to be pureed for the base of the soup.
The Haitian New Year's Day tradition of soup joumou or pumpkin soup is said to date back to January 1, 1804, the day Haitian slave and revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti’s independence from its French colonizers.
"This is a part of our culture," said Dubriede as she placed three turnips in a plastic bag. "No matter where Haitians are on January 1st we drink this soup."
The story goes that Haitian slaves were forbidden from drinking soup joumou. It was a delicacy reserved for their white masters. To celebrate Haiti's liberation, the soup became a symbol for freedom.
“When I’m drinking the soup, I feel like the soup is a legacy our ancestors left for us to remind us why we are free," said Dudley Alexis, a Haitian-born Miami filmmaker.
Alexis produced a documentary about the New Year tradition called “Liberty In A Soup.” He said every spoonful of soup is a reminder of the Haitian Revolution, a 12-year resistance by slaves that established the world's first black republic."
"The Haitian revolution pretty much echoed across the world reminding people that everyone is supposed to be free,” said Alexis.
Soup Joumou Recipe:
2 cloves garlic
2 scallions, sliced, plus more for garnish
1⁄4 cup roughly chopped parsley
1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 scotch bonnet pepper, stemmed and seeded
Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. beef chuck, cut into 1⁄2" pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 cups beef stock
2 carrots, cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1 small leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1 small yellow onion, cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1⁄2 small green cabbage, cored and cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
1⁄2 small kabocha squash, cut into 1" pieces
Puree garlic, scallions, parsley, thyme, shallots, chile, juice, salt and pepper,and 1⁄2 cup water in a blender until smooth; mix with beef in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.
Remove beef from marinade and dry with paper towels; set aside. Heat oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook, turning as needed, until browned, about eight minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
Add carrots, celery, leeks, onion, potatoes, turnips and cabbage; cook, slightly covered and stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring squash and two cups water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until squash is tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain, reserving 1⁄2 cup cooking liquid and transfer squash and liquid to a blender; puree until smooth and set aside. When vegetables are tender, uncover and stir in reserved squash puree; cook, stirring occasionally, until soup is slightly thick, 5–10 minutes more; season with salt and pepper and serve with scallions and lime wedges.