Buttercup Squash Soup

On the twentieth of July, 1962, I had to scrape frost off the windshield of my magnificent 1950 Desoto Club Coupe. I had a summer job at WERL in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and was sharing a cabin on Silver Lake with Nelson, a friend from Hayward, who had signed on the radio station earlier that morning.

Both having grown up in Hayward, neither Nels nor I mentioned the frost to one another. Having grown up in Hayward, we expected such phenomena occasionally. I remember snow on my birthday in May and white stuff on the ground in early September.

I mention the frost in July mainly to explain why my parents seldom tried to grow squash in our garden. By August, when winter squash would be ripening, the plants might well be turning black from an early frost. The climate was more hospitable just forty or fifty miles south of Hayward, and Lake Superior created a microclimate with a longer growing season on the south shore, so that farmers there were not only successful orchardists, but also grew squash and watermelons.

On our annual family apple outing to Bayfield, Mom and Dad often bought some winter squash. Mom was especially fond of Hubbard squash, those huge blue-green monsters that supplied our family with a week’s worth of vegetable from a single fruit.

In a weak moment I bought a twenty pounder two years ago for seven dollars, which would have been a bargain if I had not neglected my purchase in the basement. By the time I checked on it, I had to use a large pail to transport that once magnificent Hubbard squash up the stairs and out to the compost pile.

Cutting open a Hubbard squash is a challenge. Mom used an axe to split it in half. She would then scoop out the seeds and pulp and cut chunks of squash from the two halves for steaming or baking. I use a saw-and-raker knife to do the job on Hubbard squash. Buttercup squash is another excellent winter squash that is best opened with the saw-and-raker knife.

Buttercup squash have dark green rinds and bright gold flesh. They are delicious baked and flavored with brown sugar, butter, and maple syrup. They also make a wonderful soup. Many years ago, Jerri had a bowl of buttercup squash soup flavored with ginger at a local restaurant. Here is the version I came up with that she says tastes almost as good.


1 buttercup squash (about 7 inches in diameter)
1/2 tsp. butter
1 medium onion (2 1/2 – 3 inches in diameter)
1 medium carrot (about 1/3 cup chopped)
1 T vegetable oil
3 3/4 cups chicken broth (2 cans)
2 T fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 tsp chili paste
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400º. Wash and cut the squash in half and use a spoon to remove the pulp and seeds. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper and grease it lightly with a half teaspoon of butter. Place the squash cut sides down on the paper and bake it for thirty to forty minutes. Use a fork to test for doneness. The squash is done when a fork slips easily into the flesh.

Peel the onion, carrot, garlic and ginger while the squash is baking. Chop the onion and carrot into a quarter-inch dice and put them into a three quart saucepan along with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Mince the ginger and garlic and set them aside.

Remove the squash from the oven when it is done and allow it to cool for a few minutes while you cook the onion over moderate heat. When the onion is soft and translucent, remove the pan from the heat to avoid browning the vegetables. Scoop the flesh from the squash and combine it with the onion and carrot in the pan. Add the chicken broth to the vegetables, stir well, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes, then add the chili paste, ginger and garlic and cook for another ten minutes. Stir occasionally.

Purée the soup with an immersion or countertop blender or food processor. If you use a countertop blender, it is wise to blend the soup in stages, filling the blender a bit less than half full and transferring the puréed soup to a bowl so you can process the remainder.

Return the puréed soup to the saucepan. Stir the coconut milk, salt and pepper into the soup and simmer it for three or four minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

NOTES: If the diced onion and carrot seem too dry when you are cooking them, feel free to add a little more vegetable oil.

If you don’t have any chili paste in your kitchen, you might try a little hot sauce or cayenne. I have not had to do this, but you really need some spice to balance the ginger and squash.

Don’t be afraid to store any leftover coconut milk in the refrigerator. Put it in a jar with a screw cap. It will keep fine for at least a couple of months.

Italian Vegetable Soup

Like most people Jerri and I enjoy a good soup, so I make quite a few of them. Recently, while I was chopping vegetables for the pot I began thinking about the word “soup.” Our word comes most directly into English from the French word “soupe,” which comes from the Latin word “suppa,” but the word is ultimately from Indo-European, which explains why the Germans, Norwegians and Danes make “Suppe,” the Swedes, “soppa,” while the Spanish and Portuguese make “sopa.” All these words can be traced back to the same ancient root.

For nearly as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by language. When I was a freshman in high school I joined the forensics club and eventually decided to compete in the original oratory category. Most students who chose this category wrote speeches about current events or problems. I decided to compose an oration about the English language.

With the help of Mrs. Wyant, my forensics coach, I did move on from the district level, but I didn’t win at the University of Wisconsin which hosted the state forensics competition. The most valuable comment I received from the judge was his observation that my hands turned purple. I remember that he suggested, “You might try moving them around.” I learned to relax and gesture occasionally while speaking.

Making soup is another way to keep your hands from turning purple, since soups almost always require chopping vegetables or meat. Most soups need to be stirred as well, which also keeps your hands moving.

You have to do a little chopping for this soup but it is quick and easy to make. You’ll be done in less than an hour, and the result is both nutritious and delicious.


1 cup chopped onion
1/2 – 3/4 cup diced carrots
1/2 – 3/4 cup diced celery
1 1/2 – 2 cups chopped zucchini
1 T olive oil
1 quart chicken broth
2 large cloves garlic
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. salt
Generous grind of fresh black pepper
1 tsp. water
2 – 3 Roma tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans (about two cups)
2 – 3 cups kale
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and the carrots and celery into a half-inch dice. Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Wash and remove the stem and blossom scar from the zucchini, divide it into quarters lengthwise, then chop it into quarter inch slices.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a three quart saucepan over moderate heat and add the vegetables, thyme, sage, salt and pepper. Stir for about two minutes to coat the vegetables with oil , then add a teaspoon of water, reduce the heat and cover the pan to steam the vegetables for six or seven minutes until they are tender.

Add the chicken broth and increase the heat. While the broth and vegetables are coming to a boil, wash and remove the stem scars from the tomatoes and chop them into a quarter-inch dice. Drain the beans, put half of them into a small bowl and mash them. Wash the kale and discard the large central ribs from the leaves. Roll three or four leaves at a time into bundles and cut the rolls into three-quarter-inch wide strips. Set the kale aside to add later.

Stir the tomatoes and beans into the cooked vegetables and bring the soup back to a boil. Cook for about two minutes. Stir the kale into the soup and cook for another two minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with bread and offer grated Parmesan cheese as a garnish.

NOTES: There are several varieties of kale. Use any of them, including the decorative plants you might be able to steal from your spouse’s ornamental garden. You can also substitute baby spinach for the kale.