David's favourite soup

"The most silken winter squash soup I know is a delicate blending of curried butternut squash, combined with winter's best plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a mite of ham. A soup for all seasons, perhaps this brew is best of all in late winter when the supper table is set early. Consume yours with bread, cheese, and salad as the only other courses, for this soup is filling."

Bert Greene

I have just reread that quote, which appears at the head of the recipe from Bert Greene's wonderful book Greene on Greens, which I know I have mentioned before. Bert Greene too - and most likely this soup. But anyway I'm doing it again, because we love it.

This is a scan of my actual book although you can't see from this how it is falling apart. I have made many recipes from it - all of them a resounding success, so much so that a few make regular appearances in my kitchen. I only have two of his seven books, but would love to find more.

It's not a vegetarian book, nor is it vegan - indeed I'm not sure that Bert Greene recognised vegans. But maybe he died just before the rise and rise of veganism. Vegetarianism though - yes, and there are plenty of recipes to satisfy them, and plenty to satisfy those of us who love our vegetables but are not vegetarian. For it is not a vegetarian book - it just has vegetables as stars.

I'm not entirely sure when I discovered this particular recipe or why I would have thought of making it. Maybe a friend had given me a whole pumpkin, or maybe it was one of the few that just grew in my vegetable garden one year. I obviously had a lot of pumpkin, because I also remember making the recipe that followed it - Zucotte - also pretty nice, but obviously not quite as good as the soup as I have not made it since. Which probably does not have anything to do with the recipe but is more to do with the fact that I'm not really all that fond of pumpkin. I scanned the two pages - just to show you how used they have been:

You probably can't really read the recipe but you can find it at a site called Homemade in the kitchen - where the lady in question reproduces it exactly as is, but with absolutely no acknowledgement of the fact that it is a Bert Greene recipe. She is also considering entering it into some kind of competition. There are a few bloggers out there who do this kind of thing. Deplorable I think - but then, to be fair - I always try to be fair - maybe she didn't know where it came from. Though she would have known that she didn't make it up.

But I digress. Back to Bert Greene first and his unique style. Scattered throughout the book are those little boxes with information, or strange stories. Idiosyncratic. The one shown above is as follows:

"Summer and winter squash may bear the same family name but they have practically nothing else in common. Not flavour, not texture, not even nutrition! Summer squash is diet food: low in sodium and calories and high in vitamins, C, A and niacin. Winter squash is comfort food: higher in calories and lower in vitamin C, though it does contain over 8,600 milligrams of vitamin A per cupful and is a prime source of riboflavin and iron to boot. Luckily there's room for both - in the garden and at the stove."

Summer on the left and winter on the right. Summer includes zucchini and those little curly edged squashes, and winter squash are the tougher ones like the Kent pumpkins and Butternut squashes. The main difference it seems to me seems to be the thickness of the skin.

His introduction to every chapter in the book is always begun with some amusing anecdote from his early life which seems, at first, to be totally irrelevant, but turns out not so. The chapter on squash begins with a somewhat ruefully sad story of childhood dogs and one of those mothers who seems at first to be unfeeling, but actually is not. He then goes on to tell you about the plant's history, some nutritional information, its cultural history, and how to buy, grow and deal with it. Some of the historical and etymological information is genuinely interesting and informative - such as this:

"Squash is decidedly a native American food, and an old one to boot. Stems, rinds and seeds found in the Ocampo Caves in Mexico's Tamaulipas mountains date this gourd's appearance in a local pot to about 3000BC. Ancient Indian peoples called squash "the apple of God," since it's seeds were believed to increase fertility when planted in close proximity. Braves with large squash crops inevitably produced large families, which in turn led to larger crops."

And then you get such a wondrous selection of recipes that it's hard to choose which to go for. They come from here there and everywhere. Most of them are his own, but many are from friends and other well-known cooks - always acknowledged with affection. Whenever I have a glut of something, or something new I turn to this book for inspiration. Of course I don't always find it there, but I often do, and it must have been on the occasion of having to deal with a large quantity of pumpkin that I found this wonderful recipe.

It's pretty simple to make once you have chopped everything up. And I have to confess that yesterday I had to vary it a bit. But it's the sort of recipe that you can play with. I had forgotten to buy spring onions, so it was just ordinary onion, the capsicum was red not green, I had some turkey stock in the freezer so I used that instead of beef stock and I also had a bit of extra tomato juice from Belinda Jeffery's tomato pie, so I think it was rather more tomatoey than usual. Indeed I have varied it a bit now and then along those same lines, but it always turns out as a sumptuous meal. It also makes quite a lot, so there is another delicious meal for later in the week. As he says, you do not need anything other than bread - yesterday this was one of David's wonderful freshly baked sour dough loaves. Normally we also have a green salad, although yesterday, for once, we did not have this.

But I have forgotten to comment on why, in fact I made it yesterday. It's not winter after all, although it was blissfully cooler than the preceding few days. Well David has been pushing for it for a few days, because we are down to the very last bit of the Christmas ham. The bone, and a small chunk of meat. So when it turned cool I decided to pounce. The recipe calls for a ham bone, and so normally I would use a ham hock. Now Bert Greene tells you:

"Remove the ham bone. (If ham meat was used, remove and save for use at another time.)

Then you purée, add your curry powder and cook a little longer. But when I first made this I could not bear to throw away the meat from the bone of the ham hock, and there really wasn't much to keep for another time, and so I shred the meat and returned it to the puréed soup. Since then that is what I always do. Yesterday's bone was just thrown - there was no meat on it and the chunk of ham was shredded. Which probably enhances the hamminess of it somewhat. We like it that way anyway.

And I notice he calls it a bisque, which is a French word for a soup - most usually a smooth fishy one, so I have no idea why Bert Greene chose that as a name. Perhaps smooth is the link.

Yesterday's was made with butternut but I have made it with other kinds of pumpkin too.

The squash chapter includes a huge variety of things from gnocchi, cakes, rolls, stews, stuffed, braised or roasted with various meaty things, pumpkin pie of course, and perhaps most tantalising of all Winter squash crème brulée. I am definitely not quite brave enough for that one. There are recipes online so it's obviously a thing - maybe he thought of the idea, or maybe he just appropriated it from somewhere. Although to be fair I have never tried any of the sweet dishes that are made with pumpkin.

When he died in 1888 there was an outpouring of grief in America. I do not really understand why he is not better known around the world. He began his foodie career with one of the first gourmet takeaway shops in America - The Store at Amagansett on Long Island - which became a haunt of the rich and famous. Encouraged to pass on his recipes, that became his first book, which was so successful that newspaper columns and other books succeeded them. If you ever find any of them buy. And do make this soup.

"Food was fun and wonderful and he conveyed that. I think that more than just his recipes, which you could always count on to work, he symbolized what we are all in this business for. It's the implicit understanding that inherent in this ritual of sharing food is that kind of connection that makes it all work - what you eat, with whom you eat it and how you enjoy it." Elizabeth Schneider/Sue Huffman


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