A recipe with seasonal vegetables and items our ancestors would have stored in the cold room: Smoky bacon, herby sage, and sweet apple give the squash soup layers of flavor.
The Wolf Moon in January comes in the deep dark of winter, when the North is covered with snow.
At this time of year our northern ancestors would have taken refuge in their homes, staying close to the fire as the winds and the wolves howled outside. Families lived off the food they had put up in the fall, often supplemented by hunting for wild game, salted meats and fish, and winter storage vegetables. It was these rations that kept the wolf from the door.
The wolf as a metaphor for hunger, appetite, or famine dates back to at least the fifteenth century. Over the past sixty years we have steadily driven the metaphorical wolf from our door, and we have also steadily driven the actual wolf from the land. We have also, perhaps, driven the wildness of the wolf from our hearts.
In How to Cook a Wolf, M.F. K. Fisher (one of my most favorite food writers, along with the beloved Anthony Bourdain) addressed an audience that had been struggling to feed itself through the privations of the Depression, World War II, and food rations.
Published in 1942, How to Cook a Wolf, concerns itself with how to live well in difficult circumstances. But Fisher acknowledges that even her witty advice may sometimes be inadequate:
“There are times when helpful hints about turning off the gas when not in use are foolish, because the gas has been turned off permanently, or until you can pay the bill. And you don’t care about knowing the trick of keeping bread fresh by putting a cut apple in the box because you don’t have any bread and certainly not an apple, cut or uncut. And there is no point in planning to save the juice from canned vegetables because they, and therefore their juices, do not exist. In other words, the wolf has one paw wedged firmly into what looks like a widening crack in the door.”
How to Cook a Wolf is not a guide to the particular needs of our era, nor is history ever intended as a manual for the present. What it can provide is comfort: to read a voice across the years and realize that some things, like spirit, rise up in any crisis. In “How to Rise Up Like New Bread,” Fisher described the “almost mystical pride and feeling of self-pleasure. You will know, as you smell them and remember the strange cool solidity of the dough puffing up around your wrist when you hit it, what people have known for centuries about the sanctity of bread.” In circumstances beyond our control, creative and repetitive motion provides us with focus and comfort — as well as a tangible result.
For Fisher, cooking or outfoxing the “wolf” is not about following a recipe, but spurring open-armed attitudes towards food and life. “How to Be Cheerful Through Starving” relates the story of a woman who managed to nourish others despite her poor circumstances. I have, however, felt better for putting my creativity to work in thrifty and meaningful ways such as writing and creating guides for each month. It is a creative way to keep our wildness and connection through the months to follow.
“I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment,” Fisher wrote. Though so much is beyond our control as individuals, we have the power to nourish ourselves during this upheaval through our diet of food and of creativity and communication. In the end, Fisher admitted, “No book on earth can help you, but only your inborn sense of caution and balance and protection.”
Sure books and recipes cannot save us, but perhaps our shared wisdom can.
Let's start with this easy seasonal recipe.
Butternut squash soup with bacon and apple recipe:
8 slices bacon, I only use naturally smoked. Chopped into ¼ inch bits. Cooked over medium heat until crisp and golden.
1 Celery stalk, cut into ¼ inch cubes.
½ medium yellow onion, not a sweet onion, peel top layer off and dice onion.
1 leek, end trimmed off, white and light green part of leek sliced into small ribbons.
1 butternut squash, about a medium/normal size, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch cubes.
1 small/medium Granny Smith or other tart-sweet apple, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch cubes.
1 ½ Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves.
Pinch ground nutmeg.
Pinch ground cayenne pepper.
4 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth. My crock pot chicken stock is highlighted.
1. In a 5-quart or larger stockpot set over medium heat, cook the bacon stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden. Do not let the bacon get dark or burned bits. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined bowl or plate.
2. Drain the bacon fat and bits at bottom of pot into a bowl.
3. Wipe out the bottom of the pot with paper towel. Don’t burn yourself!
4. Place pot back onto stove top with medium heat.
5. Add 1 Tablespoon of bacon fat, with not bits in it, to the pot. This will be easy as the bits will go to the bottom of the bowl.
6. Add the celery, onion and leek to hot pot. Simmer and stir these items until tender and SLIGHTLY golden. With slotted spoon remove and place in bowl with cooked bacon.
7. Add 2-3 Tablespoons of bacon fat to pot, with medium/high heat, add cubed squash.
8. Cook until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes (resist the urge to constantly stir or it won’t brown).
9. Once the squash as started to brown, add chopped apple, sage, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt.
10. Cook the mixture an additional 2-3 minutes. Stir once or twice.
11. Add the broth, scraping up any browned bits in the pot with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the squash and apples are very soft, 6-8 minutes. Remove and let cool a tiny bit.
12. Add about half the bacon, celery, onion, leek to soup. Puree using a stand or immersion blender. I use an immersion blender and love it.
13. You’ll need to work in batches if using a stand blender, vent the top with a dishtowel over the lid. The soup will be HOT while blending. So do wait until cooler.
14. Add the rest of the bacon, celery, onion, leek to the soup and blend until smooth.
You could top with freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra cooked bacon bits or fried sage leaves.
Enjoy this super easy, incredibly tasty, and seasonal recipe.
Leave a comment for me about what resonated with you or when you try the recipe. I would love to hear from you.