On January 1st, 1804, Haiti became the first black independent nation. What many people do not know is that while the Spanish brought dogs to attack the indigenous people into submission (causing lasting enmity between dog and man in Haiti) the French did not permit the slaves to eat what they felt were delicacies such as the pumpkins that the slaves grew and harvested.
So, every January 1st the matriarch of most Haitian families will host a celebration in her home for every family member able to attend. The adults spend the entire day and evening cooking and talking and telling stories of long ago while the children play and listen to the retelling of how we won our freedom and can now eat conch, pumpkins, squash, and other things from the land that we were once forbidden to eat.
Special Note for Adopting Families or People Married to Haitians:
While recipes are passed down from generation to generation from cooking together, I decided to write my recipe down tonight as I prepared it for my family. I hope you are able to start the tradition with your Haitian spouse and or Haitian children.
First, rinse 2lbs of stew beef with vinegar and then season it by pounding these ingredients with a pestle and mortar and then marinate it with the epis (spices in the mortar) overnight, if possible- a handful of parsley, a few sprigs of thyme, 1 head of garlic, 1/4 stalk of scallion, a quarter of a green bell pepper, and half an onion. Pound everything until it’s fine and forms a sauce.
I boil my leftover ham hocks from Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for about three hours in just enough water to cover the bones. Don’t add too much water or the squash taste will have little effect. Then I add the stew meat with maybe one beef shank if the ham hock didn’t make a strong enough broth. Taste everything while you cook to make the best seasoning decisions. I boil the stew in the ham hock broth on medium-high for about an hour.
I prefer one butternut squash because it compliments the ham hock’s sweetness and makes a pretty amazing soup joumou. You can use pumpkin instead though. Let this cook for another thirty minutes. Then you may scoop out the chunks of squash and blend them but because it’s the only starch I use in my recipe, I don’t blend all of them because I want to have a semi-thick consistency. You may add 3 large potatoes and a bag of Rigatoni pasta as I was taught when I was little. Again, I don’t, because that’s just too much starch for me. I also add a couple of MSG-free bouillon cubes from Whole Foods although Magi works BEST it’s a bad idea because of all the salt…(high blood pressure maker)😳.
Then add these cut vegetables: 1/2 stalk of celery, 3 carrots, 1/4 cabbage, 2 cups of onions, a few cloves, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a handful of parsley, thyme, and one habanero to float and give it some heat. Don’t eat that though! You can throw in some garlic or onion powder and seasoned salt but I prefer the fresh version with sea-salt and black pepper to taste. Some people also add turnips and leek, but I don’t. I also stay away from oil or butter. We didn’t use that when I was little and I find it unnecessary.
Tip: Notice I use baby carrots and sometimes I use already-cut squash because my hands hurt from all the cutting. This is why the seasoning matters so much. You want to taste constantly as you cook because produce quality and ripeness can be unreliable. If the liquid doesn’t seem adequate, add a cup of water for every bouillon cube.
My secret: I add fresh squeezed lime juice from four limes and a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. That’s actually a big secret of mine for most of my broths😁
If I make a few batches, I add the potatoes and pasta for my husband’s lunches during the week since it is very filling of course add the bouillon cube to water ratio to keep it soupy😉.