Norwich – Joumou soup has survived as a holiday tradition for over 200 years in Haitian culture.
During French control of the island nation, African Haitian slaves were ordered to make joumou soup, a favorite dish, for the masters. It is a pumpkin / squash soup, with beef, chicken or other meat, beef broth, vegetables and spices. Bonded laborers were not allowed to eat – or even taste – the soup.
Black Haitians launched a successful revolution in November 1803, and when independence was achieved on January 1, 1804 – still celebrated as Haiti’s Independence Day – âThe first thing they did was to say, ‘Now we can eat the soup!’ Said StÃ©phanie Simple from Norwich. Simplice was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moved to Florida as a teenager with her mother.
Haitians did more than eat Joumou soup. They have claimed it as their own, adding African spices, vegetables and varieties of foods and spices they prefer, said Fabienne Brutus-Chiocchio from Norwich.
Brutus-Chiocchio was also born in Haiti and moved to Florida after graduating from high school. She graduated from Kaiser University Culinary School in Tallahassee, Florida, and created her own secret spice blend, called spice, for her soup.
Joumou soup symbolizes the independence, strength and unity of Haitians everywhere. It is an essential dish for New Years and Independence Day celebrations, and a staple at other holidays, church and family gatherings.
It’s also a very convenient and filling dish for Haitian Independence Day, a culmination of traditional holiday weeks for Haitian families, said Brutus-Chiocchio.
âPeople have been partying all December so they need this soup to get over all the holidays,â she said. “You need something to pick you up.”
The big party, Reveyon, starts on Christmas Eve with food, American and Haitian Christmas music, dancing, games and, of course, a drink until dawn. The children are woken up at 5 or 6 in the morning to open the presents. In Haiti, Simplice said, families don’t put gifts under a tree, but children wake up and find gifts next to them or in their bedrooms. Then, after church, the feast and feast continues throughout the day and until Christmas Eve. On December 26 and 27, people could take a rest to prepare for the big Independence Day celebration, she said.
A favorite Haitian Christmas drink, cremas or kremas, is sometimes compared to eggnog. âIt doesn’t taste like eggnog. It’s better. It’s thicker, âsaid Simplice, and flavored with Haitian rum. She came up with a recipe that called for two cans of sweetened condensed milk, one can of evaporated milk and coconut cream, one teaspoon of nutmeg, cinnamon, anise extract, almond extract, vanilla extract, lime juice and a cup of rum, preferably Barbancourt Haitian Rum.
Simplice, 36, still misses the joys of a Haitian Christmas. As a child, in the early 1990s, she recalls, her neighborhood in Port-au-Prince was full of lights, colors and joy at Christmas. Everyone decorated for the holidays.
âWhen I arrived here, I cried for two years,â Simplice recalls. She complained to her mother from their neighborhood in Florida, âWhere are all the lights and decorations? There is nothing. “Her mother just replied,” It’s different here.
Joumou soup in the spotlight
Simplice has several businesses in Norwich, centered in its Steflorah beauty salon at 91 Franklin St. It also has a cosmetics store and accounting department next door at 93 Franklin St. which also provides translation services and a assistance with electronic services. Her husband, Lonord Simplice, owns Lonord’s Barber Shop at 126 Boswell Ave.
The couple, along with their three children, their daughters, Kaira, 13, and Steflorah, 10, and their son, Noah, who turns 7 on December 26, live in an apartment above Steflorah’s beauty salon.
For large holiday gatherings, Simplice empties the beauty salon, and it becomes a giant dining room, with the help of interior decorating from its cousin, a designer from New York.
Simplice’s signature main course for festive occasions is rice and beans, with chicken or goat meat and Haitian black mushrooms. Another Haitian vacation favorite is mac and cheese, a baked but not American-style mac and cheese, she said.
As New Year’s Day approaches, Joumou soup takes center stage.
Brutus-Chiocchio, 42, said that as a child in Haiti, her grandmother, Tiolene Elesidor, who died in 1985, made giant batches of Joumou soup.. Her grandmother owned a large metal container with separate stacked compartments. She poured the soup into each compartment and delivered batches to various family members.
âI want one of these containers! Said Brutus-Chiocchio.
Brutus-Chiocchio lives in Norwich with his son Leonardo, 11, daughter Francesca, 13, and foster nieces Melissa, 22, and Zoe, 3. Her ex-husband, Tim Chiocchio, who works at Electric Boat in Groton, remains close to the family. .
Brutus-Chiocchio works as a long-term substitute teacher at Uncas Primary School in Norwich. She is also active in the effort of parental involvement at school. This year, the school is preparing an international cookbook with family favorite recipes. Brutus-Chiocchio submitted his recipe for Joumou soup, made with butternut squash, meat, celery, turnips, watercress, spinach, russet potatoes – boiled separately to keep the starch out of the way. soup – and pasta, also cooked separately and added to the soup. And its special blend of spices.
“If you want it, you have to order it from me,” she said, showing a photo of a small jar of spices.
Brutus-Chiocchio said she graduated from Kaiser University in 2008. She then studied international affairs, believing that she would follow in her father’s footsteps and work for the United Nations, or could possibly pursue a career in the hospitality industry. But she kept turning to food, she said.
âI feel like food brings people together,â she said.