Among the dishes in my pantheon of ‘Foods For Which I’m Always Hungry’ butternut squash soup occupies a hallowed spot. Just typing those words, butternut squash soup, I want to reach for my spoon and slurp up the warm, salty-sweet liquid. But let’s remain calm. That’s what butternut squash soup would prefer. Unlike other pureed soups, which rely on cups of cream and manifold spices for a tempting product, butternut squash soup doesn’t require excessive seasoning or complicated techniques. Slightly sweet, pleasantly smooth, and richly flavoured, butternut squash soup can dress up for the dinner party, show up for the quick lunch or materialise at the late meal. And that’s only half a reason it earns a special place in my food pantheon.
My deep relationship with butternut squash soup sprung up after an emergency grocery shop. Returning to university and an empty refrigerator after the Christmas holidays, I despaired at finding dinner amidst Sainsbury’s uninspiring rows of broccoli, microwave pizza and oven chips. I walked past the chilled soup section, which held yadda yadda yadda and butternut squash soup. The tall, oval container with its semi-firm but slightly pliable plastic held a pale orange liquid that looked okay. So I bought it and went home to my stove. After a few brief boil, a yawn or seven and a frantic search for a spoon, I had a steaming bowl of soup in front of me and had a new tradition in my jet-lag alleviation routine.
Thanks to its myriad variations — all of which lend themselves to contented sipping — discovering butternut squash soup ushers you into a boundless world of recipe clipping and soup seeking. Simmered for hours, roasted beforehand, sautéed with onions: butternut squash soup makes friends with any flavour you throw at it. Unfortunately, too many magazines and soup-making companies erroneously believe that butternut squash soup smacks solely of creamy sweetness, hold the savoury vegetal. I disagree. Combing oodles of warming cinnamon, luxuriously rich vanilla, and thick cream with silky puréed squash conjures up tastes of redundantly decadent Thanksgiving desserts. But rummage through the pre-packaged boxes and Internet recipes and you’ll find versions that don’t masquerade as pudding. Coupled with Mexican spices, coconut milk and sherry, these squash soups compel you to slurp your way to the bottom of the bowl.
Indeed, the version that ushered me into squash soup paradise was slightly-spicy. Produced by Glorious soups, the eye-scorching graphics on the tub nearly pushed me toward Sainsbury’s creamy vegetable or French onion soup. One spoonful ejected the hyper trendy logo from my mind and pushed out the specific spices too. Instead, the squash’s whisper of smooth vegetal sweetness that remained with me. It remained with me as I tried butternut squash soup with sherry, butternut squash soup with ancho chili, curried butternut squash soup, and butternut squash soup with cider. I expect that this whisper will rustle in my ear for years to come.
Butternut squash soup seems an effortless meal, but the diverse recipes and their myriad pitfalls reveal otherwise. In its apparent simplicity butternut squash soup hides a complex web of infinite variations. This keeps us coming back. We return to the dish day after day and year after year, because squash effortlessly incorporates these new inflections while remaining familiar. Following that recipe in this year we may add roasted peppers or sour cream, but we revel in the joy we experienced last year when our soup was infused with nutmeg. The accent develops, but the dish remains recognizable. We change, but we continue to be ourselves.