By: Ford Pierre + Diana Pierre-Louis
What is the cultural importance of soup joumou?
All Haitians know the Soup Joumou and all Haitians consume Soup Joumou, but how many know its history and origins? Let's discover the story behind this mythical dish made from giraumon (a variety of pumpkin, found in the West Indies) and why it is traditionally eaten on January 1st.
There are often multiple versions of the origins of different types of soup. And when we talk about the origins of Soup Joumou in Haiti, two versions are often spoken of.
A colonial antecedent for Soup Joumou
First of all, the first suggests that Soup Joumou existed long before Haiti's independence, that is to say since the time of the colony. But its consumption was only reserved for wealthy settlers at the time. The slaves were prohibited from consuming the soup. It was not until the proclamation of Haiti's independence on January 1, 1804, with the authorization of Dessalines' wife (Marie Claire Heureuse) that Haitians began to consume Soup Joumou throughout the country. The objective was to show the whole world, more precisely to France, that Haiti had become a free and independent state.
A national invention for Soup Joumou
The second version tells that the Soup Joumou is from the invention of Marie Claire Heureuse. When her husband, General Jean Jacques Dessalines was preparing to deliver his speech for the occasion in the city of Gonaïves on January 1, 1804, she wanted to offer a nutritious food that would allow the newly free to resist shortages and other consequences of the war. She therefore proposed Joumou soup because it corresponded to all of these criteria. This soup could help the peasants to remain powerful in the face of hunger for almost 15 days. Previously, Claire Heureuse used Joumou to treat tuberculosis patients at the time. It was after discovering the virtues of this plant that she decided to create the soup. It is therefore from this moment that Joumou soup entered the Haitian tradition.
A world heritage for Soup Joumou
About two centuries later, the symbolism of the Soup Joumou continues to mark Haitian territory. Every January 1, almost all Haitian families consume the soup. It is a tradition to remember and remind the world that Haiti is the first free black nation. And thanks to the considerable efforts of several patriots, in 2021 it entered the world heritage of UNESCO. It all started in March 2021 when Haiti submitted the candidature of Soup Joumou, to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for registration among the Intangible Cultural Heritages (ICH) of humanity. A few months later, during its 16th intergovernmental session on Thursday, December 16, 2021, UNESCO adopted the inscription of the traditional Haitian "Soup joumou" on the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It is the first meal shared by humanity's first black nation.
Every January 1, families and friends in Haiti and abroad travel around to different family and friends houses to enjoy the soup together. Although the ingredients remain mostly the same, each person's flavors can vary depending on which recipe they learned from or which recipe they follow. Luckily with the Internet, there are a plethora of recipes to choose from and I guarantee any will be tasty!
I always follow the ingredients list and recipe for Soup Joumou out of our book Freedom Soup by by Tami Charles (Author), Jacqueline Alcántara (Illustrator). It's so easy to follow and simplifies the whole process which includes a long list of ingredients and steps.
Cooking essentials for Soup Joumou
Below is a video in Haitian Creole on how to cook Soup Joumou
By: Derline Pierre-Louis, Guest Blogger
Reading about sauce pwa congo took me back to living at home with mom. Sunday after church, the table would display two or three whole fish, fried or cooked in sauce, a fresh cooked beet, watercress, fresh cooked carrot salad, a glass bowl of white rice, which can be eaten on its own, sauce pwa congo with coconut milk-depending if we were having guests and they did not eat coconut milk in their sauce pwa and of course juice made from either corosol, papaya, or mango or limes to name a few.
All from her garden in the backyard or bought from a Haitian or Latin market. The food was tasty, of course, but fresh, not from a can. You know how long it take to cook fresh pwa congo from the tree or dried pwa congo from a bag? Thank you for this trip back to salivating memory taste bud trip.
Pwa congo is pigeon peas. Green peas is pwa france or pwa vet. Pwa france/vet is sweet so we'd soak it in salt water to reduce the sweetness, and it can make it's own sauce or is sometimes mixed with pwa congo because pwa congo is more expensive, so to stretch it, green peas would be added. However, when cooking pwa france/vet with rice, it doesn't need to be soaked in salt water, as the water cooking the peas and rice has salt and that reduces the sweetness.
It's the same concept with Lalo and spinach. Lalo is a different green from spinach and has a different texture and preparing it can be tricky. If not cooked properly, it can become slimmy like overcooked okra (kalaloo). People form L'Artibonite are experts in this dish. When you see Lalo sold in restaurants, it is usually mixed with spinach, to stretch it. It's not commonly found in the markets and are imported from Haiti. This information varies slightly or drastically depending on which part of Haiti you're from.
What is your favorite Sunday food memory in Haiti?