The taste of freedom: Soup joumou, a New Year’s Day tradition

Soup Joumou, or Haitian pumpkin soup, was a delicacy reserved for slave masters in Haiti. It represents Haiti’s history as the first independent Black republic.

As a child, I remember staying up well past my bedtime on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop on TV at midnight. Once the clock struck midnight, sounds of fireworks (and occasional gunshots) would echo in the night sky and illuminate my poorly lit neighborhood. I would peek out the iron bars of my bedroom window to watch the spectacle in amazement.

Once daylight hit, Haitian news radio, kompa music and the kitchen aroma seeping underneath my bedroom door awakened me. Soup joumou, Haitian pumpkin soup, was a must-have in our house every year. All over the world, Jan. 1 marks the start of a new year. For Haitians, it’s a celebration of independence.

Soup joumou. Photo credit: Shelda Amilcka

Despite the constant barrage of negative portrayals of Haiti and its people, most Haitians grow up proud and resilient. Many pass those traits on to their children.

My father, who came to America in 1980, was always quick to remind my brother and I that in 1804, Haiti became the world’s first independent Black republic — and the only one to earn its freedom through a successful slave revolt. To have done it against the powerful French military and their ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, only adds more flavor to the dish. Why? France’s failed attempts to re-enslave Haitians is considered the chief reason for the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States.

So why joumou? Well, the tradition states that the soup was a delicacy of French slave masters in Haiti, but slaves who cooked it weren’t allowed to have it. A bowl of the hearty soup became a symbol of freedom.

When I moved to Charlotte from South Florida, I feared losing my sense of cultural identity. I was pleasantly surprised to see representation from a number of countries with African descent, including Haiti — and particularly first-generation Americans like myself. Charlotte’s only Haitian restaurant, Island Hub Restaurant & Lounge, closed its doors in 2017 so I couldn’t get their soup joumou last year.

My last bowl of soup joumou from Island Hub.

Not wanting us to miss out, my friend Shelda Amilcka decided to bless us with soup joumou this year. Her mom usually makes it, but she learned the recipe since she couldn’t get back to Florida for the holidays.

“I think it’s important to keep traditions, not only among my Haitian peers, but also to educate and expose non-Haitians to our rich culture and history,” she said.

To be clear, I know my way around the kitchen and can cook a few Haitian dishes. However, I’ve never taken on the task to make joumou. Shelda didn’t want to give me her mom’s recipe, but check out the recipe below from Chef Danie via L’Union Suite if you’d like to make some joumou. Happy New Year and Happy Haitian Independence Day.

Soup Joumou Recipe

Servings: 10-12

Ingredients
1 lb. butternut squash
2 lbs. Calabaza squash
3 large Russet potatoes
2 Chayote squash
1 lb. Malanga
1 Sour orange
3 Celery stalk
3 Carrots
2 small White turnips
1 Green scotch bonnet pepper
1 handful Cilantro
1 handful Culantro
1 handful Thyme
1 cup Epis (Haitian Complete Seasoning Base)
½ cup beef or chicken bouillon
10 Green cabbage leaves chopped
1 ½ lb. Stew beef
2 ½ lb. Beef neck bones with meat
Rigatoni
Vermicelli
18 cups of water divided
3 tbsp. of olive oil

Equipment
Large 12-16-quart stock pot

Preparation
1. Combine beef in a large bowl. Cut sour orange in half and squeeze juices all over the beef. Use the sour orange skin to rub the beef, removing impurities. Rinse beef and drain, then place back in the large bowl.

2. Pour epis seasoning over the beef and rub in. Let it sit and marinate in the refrigerator covered for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

3. Coarsely chop all of your vegetables (carrots, celery, turnip, chayote) and put them aside. Peel and chop malanga and potatoes and put them aside covered in water so they don’t brown. Peel and chop both squashes into large pieces and set aside.

4. Heat the stock pot on high and coat the bottom with the olive oil. Add meat and let it sear.

5. Pour 5 cups of water, or until meat is completely covered with water, and bring it to a boil for 40 minutes.

6. Add squash to the pot and add more water to completely submerge. Bring it to a boil for
20 minutes.

7. Remove squash and puree in a blender. Add the pureed squash back in the pot and stir.

8. Add remaining chopped vegetables to the pot and bring it to a boil. Add remaining water.

9. Add bouillon and any extra preferred seasonings (season salt, onion powder, garlic powder) and stir.

10. Take the thyme, cilantro, culantro and pepper and tie them together with butcher twine. Add
that to the soup and remove before serving.

11. Add pasta and let cook for an additional 20 minutes. Serve with passion fruit juice and Haitian bread for a real authentic experience.


Kallan Louis is a writer and consultant for qcitymetro.com. He does a lot, but never feels like he’s doing enough. His life can be described as a Venn Diagram: News media, Black culture and sports. He’s always on TV, but rarely seen.

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