Why We're Cooking Pumpkin for New Year's

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

January 1, 2020. The time has come. It's a new year! While some of us cook black eyed peas, hoppin john, or other traditions you might have, there is another tradition for New Year's Day: Haitian Pumpkin Soup.

The history of Haiti is a tough and tumultuous one. For those who don't know, Haiti was originally occupied by the Taino people. When Columbus "discovered" the New World, he actually landed on the island of Hispaniola, which is current day Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Throughout the years, Columbus and his men committed mass genocide against the Taino people. After that, they split the island in half, which was then Spain occupied Dominican Republic and French occupied Haiti. The French then began to import so many slaves for their plantations from West Africa that the average lifespan of a slave was 3 years once arriving on the island. Slaves were boiled alive in large sugar vats, raped, violently executed, and more. Conditions were horrible.

The Haitian slaves finally formed together with the help of a Jamaican leader and overthrew the French oppressors. The day they gained independence is January 1, 1804.

The first meal these Haitian freedom fighters made was Pumpkin Soup or Soup Joumou. The reason is because this delicacy was so delicious that the slaves were never allowed to eat it. It was exclusively reserved for the French.

Now, every Independence Day is a chance for the family to get together and for people to work all day to make a beautiful and delicious soup. This soup reminds the people of Haiti that they are revolutionaries and strong! You can also partake in this tradition through making a variation of the pumpkin soup from your home!

My disclaimer before beginning is to tell you this: I am not Haitian. So, if you want a totally authentic Haitian recipe and the full Haitian story about pumpkin soup and the traditions that surround it, I recommend you talk to a Haitian first-hand. However, I have done a lot of talking to Haitians over the years and I feel well equipped to tell you what I've heard about this tradition and how we can take part in this!

Haitians spend so much time and love on their soup. This is a condensed, American-ized version for you.

Haitian Pumpkin Soup with Beef, from Epicurious

YIELD Serves 10–12 ACTIVE TIME1 hour TOTAL TIME3 hours


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, divided

1 pound beef shank, meat cut off bones into 1" cubes

1 pound stew beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1" cubes

1 cup Epis Seasoning Base

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime)

1 tablespoon seasoned salt

15 cups beef or vegetable broth, divided1 pound beef bones

1 medium calabaza squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, cubed, or 2 pounds defrosted frozen cubed calabaza squash, or 1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, cut into 2" chunks

3 large russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), finely chopped

3 carrots (about 1 pound), sliced1/2 small green cabbage (about 1 pound), very thinly sliced1 medium onion, sliced1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped

2 small turnips, finely chopped

1 green Scotch bonnet or habanero chile1

1/2 cups rigatoni

6 whole cloves

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more

Pinch of cayenne pepper, plus more

1 parsley sprig (optional)

1 thyme sprig (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Crusty bread (for serving)

Special EquipmentA very large stock pot (at least 10 quarts)


Pour 1 cup vinegar into a large bowl. Swish beef shank and stew beef in vinegar to rinse. Transfer beef to a colander and rinse with water.Stir Epis Seasoning Base, lime juice, and seasoned salt in another large bowl. Add beef, toss to coat, and let marinate at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.Heat 5 cups broth in very large stock pot over medium. Add marinated beef and bones, cover, and simmer until meat is beginning to soften, about 40 minutes.Add squash to pot on top of beef, cover, and return to a simmer. Cook until squash is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer squash to a blender. Add 4 cups broth and purée until smooth. Return to pot and bring to a simmer.Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, celery, leek, turnips, chile, rigatoni, cloves, garlic powder, onion powder, 2 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, a pinch of cayenne, parsley, if using, thyme, if using, and remaining 6 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, until pasta and vegetables are tender, 30–35 minutes.Add oil, butter, and remaining 1 Tbsp. vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is very tender, 15–20 minutes more.Taste and adjust seasonings. Divide soup among bowls and serve with bread alongside.

Do Ahead

Soup can be made 3 days ahead; cover and chill, or freeze up to 3 months.Cooks' NoteThis soup feeds a large crowd. If you have a smaller crew or smaller pot, feel free to halve the ingredients. You might need to add extra liquid while cooking.

Here's another recipe, this time from Haiti Chery. This is vegetarian. If you are gluten free, simply omit the spaghetti and double check your spices.

Vegetarian Haitian Soup from Haiti Chery

(from this site)

Are you making pumpkin soup this New Year's Day? What are you making? What are some of your traditions?

Whatever your traditions are, we hope you have a wonderful holiday and a great New Year!

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