Autumn is such a lovely season. I love autumn. Well, I love the idea of autumn, the kind of autumn people in Northern states experience: the autumn of richly golden and red leaves on trees, fluttering in a cool, crisp breeze; morning frost glistening on ripened pumpkins sitting on the steps of porches; scarecrows on their posts in front yards, surrounded by fallen leaves, smiling at passersby; red-bronze and bight yellow mums blooming gloriously in gardens; the bright, the harvest moon lighting the evening with its magical silver glow; and all the other signs of this transitional season between those hazy, lazy days of summer and the joyful, festive, and holy season of Advent and Christmas. Usually I get to experience a little bit of this kind of autumn – genuine autumn, to my way of thinking – when Phillip and I travel North for our annual October beat-the-heat wedding anniversary trip to a destination marathon or 50k. These October trips out of Texas are the reason I know that the kind of autumn sold to Southerners by generations marketing companies really exist. This year, however, no annual October trip. We gave ourselves a house renovation instead (which includes an awesome new kitchen). We still have a fall race planned (Wild Hare 5), but it’s in November in the Texas hill country. The weather will be too warm and humid for a long race, the sun even yet shining too hot and brightly, and the trees on the trail the same colors as always (mountain cedar and mesquite trees don’t change colors). I predict a very slow finish time. Yet still I love autumn.
Texans may not get enjoy the same lovely changes of the season ushered in by autumn as those in more Northern climates, but we do get to enjoy the traditional fall season flavors and dishes. Pumpkin, of course, has its chance to shine in both sweet and savory dishes during this season. Pumpkin dishes are the definitive seasonal autumn food. Everyone looks forward to such treats as pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin spice lattes. Personally, I look forward to pumpkin soup more than I do pumpkin pie. I make it every year. Last year I even bought some cute pumpkin bowls in which to serve the soup. Last year, 2016, I finally perfected my pumpkin soup. I made it the same way this year without tinkering with it again. The onion, celery, and vegetable broth give the pumpkin a savory flavor; the sweet pumpkin seed streusel (recipe here) adds a sweet element that nicely complements the pumpkin pie spices in the soup. Using an immersion blender to make the onion and celery smooth into the soup adds to its creamy texture. It’s just the kind of comfort food I imagine people who live in cooler climates look forward to eating when the weather turns cold.
Just a note about cooking anything with pumpkin, though. Since brands of canned pumpkin are not equal in texture and flavor, the brand of pumpkin you choose for your cooking will make a difference. I used to use organic canned pumpkin purée for my cooking. Organic brands of pumpkin are a brighter orange, with a grainier texture, than the ubiquitous Libby’s brand canned pumpkin, but – you know, the orang-y, grainy brands are organic – right? Naturally I was biased toward the more wholesome brand of pumpkin. Last fall, though, I read a Cook’s Illustrated review of canned pumpkin. Surprisingly, the Cook’s Illustrated peeps prefer Libby’s to all other brands, even to the most popular organic brand of pumpkin purée. According to the review, Libby’s has a better texture and flavor than the other brands reviewed, and it leads to better results in dishes in which it is used. I figured that up until my mid-life enlightenment concerning eating seasonally, locally, and organically I’d eaten Libby’s canned pumpkin without negative consequences, I’d return to the brand of my youth and give it a try. Guess what? I concur with the Cook’s Illustrated reviewers that Libby’s canned pumpkin, with its creamier texture and slightly sweeter flavor, makes pumpkin dishes and breads taste better. I’m trading (perhaps) healthier for (certainly) tastier canned pumpkin purée. I can make up the difference with other foods in which such a choice need not be made. On other thing: the purée in that can labeled pumpkin really is pumpkin, despite last year’s scare stories otherwise.
- 1 half small red onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium stalks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 can Libby's pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
- 1 32 oz carton vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup heavy cream (or more, to taste)
- 1 tablespoon (or to taste) pumpkin pie spice (or more, to taste)
- In a large pot, sauté the finely chopped onion and celery in the four tablespoons of butter until tender. Mix the entire can of pumpkin purée into the onion-celery mixture and blend well. Add the vegetable broth and water to the pumpkin mixture and stir until smooth. Simmer the soup over medium-low heat for about twenty minutes. Remove the soup from the heat, but keep it in the pot. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until the celery and onion are puréed into the soup. Return the pot to oven top and over low heat, add the pumpkin pie spices and ½ cup cream. Heat the soup through. Ladle into bowls, drizzle more heavy cream over the soup, and add a dollop of pumpkin seed streusel. Serve hot.