Comments on the Dark Days: Butternut Squash Soup with Pear Compote

I know, I know. This is Week 11/12 but the official Dark Days Challenge was cut short this year.  Who cares about official. The conversation continues. The organizer of this blog event, (not so) Urban Hennery, has been urging all of us across the country to eat locally during the most challenging period of the year, from December to April. BRAVO! With very few exceptions (mostly in hoop houses), fresh local produce where we live was harvested months ago. While we’ve always favored local organic and responsibly raised ingredients, this challenge made me scrutinize what really is available nearby. Before, it was just too easy to pick up those beautiful and relatively expensive organic greens from California, or favor whatever meat, poultry or fish was on sale, no matter the origin. It’s not that I wouldn’t fall for a delicious bunch of fresh chard right now. I’m not that much of a purist, but this exercise has been revealing.


Expanding the Local Sources. First, we discovered many more local sources of excellent food. Our CSA and a local organic farm and apple orchard are at the edge of a geographic area that we rarely exceed, a circle of about 12-15 miles from here. We discovered additional farms within this area and an astonishing number to visit within a reasonable distance beyond, including creameries with amazing cheese, vineyards, orchards, farms that raise livestock and poultry and sell eggs as well as meat, vegetable producers, mushroom farms, and sources of honey and maple syrup, not to mention foraging.


Knowing your Farmers. From the local chapter of NOFA, we’ve gotten to know many farmers. We concentrate on veggies at home but visiting those who raise goats, sheep and cows for cheese is very special. I went to pick up a week’s worth of cheese and eggs and had the privilege of meeting nearly two dozen baby goats, between one and seven days’ old. How sweet is that. Where there are kids, there will be cheese later on.



Re-thinking Frozen Food. I’ve changed my attitude about frozen food. I can’t bear the aisles of frozen food at the grocery store, and I’ve looked down my nose at freezing, other than as an intermediate step. For example, we typically have vegetable, chicken and fish broth/stock in the freezer, extra soup, cooked beans and sometimes grains, roasted tomatoes, blanched greens, and herbs.   All things we’ve made and frozen. In the future, I would squeeze a little more from the garden, particularly condensed veggie broth and greens.


However, Dark Days led me to discover that local free-range meat and poultry is typically sold frozen. Hrmph, I don’t buy anything frozen other than puff pastry. Why was this a surprise? It’s too cold for the chickens too, duh.  Our closest pasture keeps its meat at minus ten degrees, whereas my German home freezer is reliably at 0 degrees (and most home freezers are typically higher). With limited freezer space, I don’t buy in bulk, but now find I need to plan ahead to defrost if we’re going to eat locally.

However, Dark Days led me to discover that local free-range meat and poultry is typically sold frozen. Hrmph, I don’t buy anything frozen other than puff pastry. Why was this a surprise? It’s too cold for the chickens too, duh.  Our closest pasture keeps its meat at minus ten degrees, whereas my German home freezer is reliably at 0 degrees (and most home freezers are typically higher). With limited freezer space, I don’t buy in bulk, but now find I need to plan ahead to defrost if we’re going to eat locally.

Home Canning and Fermenting. We always have a lot of home-canned stuff and so far, there’s little I’d do differently, other than can more whole tomatoes instead of mostly sauce or soup bases. I’d increase and diversify the pickling and fermenting, although those 10 pounds of sauerkraut remain daunting. Mostly, the pantry needs management to make sure everything is consumed (or given away!) within a year.


Cellar and Fridge. What amazes me for the second year in a row, however, is how many stored fresh vegetables I still have in the cellar and fridge in late February. At this rate, we’ll still be eating them until May and they’re in remarkably good condition. Squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, white and red potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic in the cellar, and rutabagas, turnips, beets, leeks, carrots, daikon and cabbage in the fridge.  We even have scallions still in their muddy clump and some radicchio. I don’t shop for much any more.

Hence the soup.  This squash soup is one of many made over the last months, with more to come. This was made from a combination of butternut and buttercup squash. I usually find butternut squash alone could use greater depth of flavor so I add carrots or sweet potato. I had already roasted a large buttercup squash, so I added a few scoops. This soup was sweet from the buttercup and also from an apple than I chopped and cooked with the onions, adding a mixture of spices (curry powder, garam masala, Chinese five-spice powder, all preferably ground yourself) to blend and cook before adding squash and water. I served it with a dollop of pear and port wine compote that I made for the Tigress Can Jam in December. I also made an apple version but I liked the contrast of pear with this soup. (The idea of this combination came from Erica Bone’s Well Preserved, which inspired the compote.)

Curried Apple and Butternut Squash Soup with Pear Compote

1 large butternut squash

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 large onion, diced

1 apple, peeled and diced

2 tsp mixed spices (curry, garam masala or Chinese five-spice powder)

One of the following: 1-2 large carrots, peeled and diced or 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed or ½ c precooked buttercup squash or some cubed raw buttercup squash)

Optional: a pinch of cayenne pepper

Peel and roughly cube the squash and set aside. Slowly sauté the onions and apple in the oil until the onion is translucent. Stir in the spice mixture and cook for a minute or two to release the spice aromas and oils. Add the squash and carrot or sweet potato, and slightly cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Puree, return to the pot and adjust the seasonings. Serve with a compote of pears or apples, or chutney.



Categories: Dark Days Challenge, Farmer's Market, Preserving, Soup, Winter squashTags: ,

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