I grew a wheelbarrow load of butternut pumpkins this year.
I was not expecting such a haul, after the rabbits ate most of my seedlings, but one intrepid plant put out many vines and blessed me with about half a dozen nice big fruit.
In another garden bed I actually managed to grow pumpkins from seed for the first time ever. These were also butternuts, and grew unmolested among the last of the lettuce and beetroot plants from last spring. These gave me dozens of smaller fruit.
Butternuts don’t keep as well as the thicker-skinned varieties, but they are a lot easier to cut and peel. I often serve up steamed or roasted butternut pumpkin with the skin left on because it is so thin and soft there is little need to remove it.
So we’ve been having steamed pumpkin with pretty much every meal, but the real beauty of home-grown pumpkin lies in the flavour it gives to soup. I have a fear that my soups will be too bland or too thin, so I like to really jazz my vegie soups up. And with weeks of pumpkin soup ahead of us, I knew that I would have to make a bit of an effort and think outside the box to keep us going back to the fridge and freezer for pumpkin soup lunch day after day.
When I make soup, the first thing I think about is the stock. I hate using bought stock, so I need an alternative base. Some people like their vegetable soups to be all-vegetable, but I think a meat stock base to a pumpkin soup can really give the end result a bit of substance.
I made the first soup not long after I roasted our first home-grown duck. I boiled the frame with some herbs, onion and garlic for a few hours. The next day I strained the stock, added a large cut pumpkin and a couple of big carrots. Soup number one was just a little bit different, thanks to the duck stock.
I had kept the frame from the Christmas turkey in the freezer, pretty much forgotten about, until I went to make the second pumpkin soup and had an ‘aha!’ moment. Second soup became turkey stock and pumpkin, with some fresh coriander and a couple of chili from my cousin Jess’s garden. It had a bit of bite to set it apart from the regular pumpkin soup.
For the next batch I found some lamb necks left over from the sheep we had butchered last year. They got the royal stock treatment as well, boiled for several hours with onion, garlic and herbs. I added a couple of sweet potato to the pumpkin and finished it off with a good bit of home-grown garlic.
Being soup season, there are plenty of ham hocks and bacon bones available at the moment. Most years I would do a pea and ham soup, but this year with our pumpkin haul the logical step seemed to be bacon flavoured pumpkin soup. I made what was effectively bacon stock with some smoked pork bones and used this to cook the pumpkin in. I added a couple of turnips to give a fluffy, silky texture, confident that the bacon stock would provide plenty of flavour, which it did. This was the one the kids liked best.
Last night we had a roast chicken, and since the oven was on I took the opportunity to roast up a whole lot of pumpkin, liberally sprinkled with slices of garlic. The chicken frame became the stock base, and now I have roasted pumpkin and garlic soup for this week.
So where to next..? Someone suggested curry, and I would love to do a fragrant, spicy all-vegetable soup and let the spices and the sweetness of the pumpkin do the talking.
Trying to keep pumpkin soup new and exciting has been a great challenge so far, and a great way to learn about combining flavours and creating themes. I think the lamb and sweet potato has been my favourite so far. I’m down to about 8 fairly small pumpkins so my run will end soon, but it has been fun and I’ve had the whole family taking soup to work and school for lunch in the past few weeks. Making the stock and then making the soup does take a couple of days, but it’s not terribly labour-intensive because most of the time it’s all just on the stove simmering away and smelling amazing.
So this soup season consider trying something a little different and showcase the humble pumpkin with a new theme to create a new taste.