Soup is like a bowl full of love.
To me, it doesn’t matter what the flavour, it always makes me feel loved.
My Nana’s best ever pumpkin soup
I had my heart broken badly many years ago. I was the one who left him after six years of dating and living together but still, my heart was broken. It took a lot of courage to walk out the door and move out on my own for the very first time in my life. My family were my strength, as they always are in a time of need.
My Mum and Dad let me cry, lay on their laps and regress to feeling like a little girl again. My Sister kept me company on many nights in my new flat where we shared too many bottles of wine (for medicinal purposes). And my brother, well… he wasn’t ready to understand what that kind of hurt and pain was like but he does now and his cuddles, now that we are all grown up, make up for it no end.
In 2013, our darling ‘Pop’ sadly passed away and we were all so blessed to spend his final days with him in hospital. The last time I kissed my Pop goodbye (and really knowing it was going to be the last time) felt like someone had punched their hand through my chest, grabbed hold of my heart and yanked it hard. God, it hurt. I remember walking out of the hospital, my brother choking back his own tears, enveloping me in his big arms and then keeping his arm gently around my shoulder for the long walk back to the car. Our Mum and Dad walked slowly behind us. My Dad had just lost his Dad and I feel the weight of that with such force but cannot even fathom what it would be like to lose your own father. A big part of our world had just peacefully slipped away and the pain was too huge.
The time I speak of is 2013. I remember calling my Nana for Mother’s day a couple of weeks after our Pop’s passing. For such an energetic woman, I couldn’t help but notice how tired she sounded. She was grieving and had lost the love of her life.
They were so very beautiful together. A true love story. And even in Pop’s last days, and although he wasn’t able to see by then, his face would beam when he would hear Nana’s voice as she entered the hospital room. He would mutter ‘Hey….Joan-y babes’ and everyone’s heart, including, I am sure her own, would melt.
On our phone call that night, Nana said she didn’t feel like eating. This was a woman who has loved cooking, entertaining and feeding others her whole life. It was just her now. She had lost her reason to cook. I have her same love of entertaining and all that the kitchen and a shared table symbolise & I felt the loss so much with her as we chatted that night.
Over time, Nana re-entered the world without Pop. She joined some clubs and would enjoy special outings with newfound friends as well as older treasured ones. I loved it when I phoned and she would tell me she was off to a cards night in her complex (always with a shared plate of something lovely).
One of the groups took adventures by bus into the city and they enjoyed stage shows and the likes together. I can’t imagine how daunting it must feel heading to new events when you are suddenly on your own and have lost your very own ‘card night date’ after so many years of attending things together.
After a few years, Nana moved into a nursing home in Woodend. A small but lovely room with her favourite few pieces of furniture and her special photos and pictures on the walls. Her crystal cabinet contains all of the precious little items that she & Pop have collected over their many travels and precious years together. This is where we visit her. Sit next to her, in her armchair, looking out onto the garden.
One of the most beautiful things about Nan is how her face lights up when you walk in. Like you are the very best sight she could hope to see. A look that makes you feel so very loved. It is a very precious feeling.
I received one of these precious welcome looks and smiles when I paid her a surprise visit only a few weeks ago. She gasped when I walked in, then her hand shook a little as she waved it in excitement and then….little happy tears in her eyes. These tears are always catchy and soon my eyes were full & leaking too. I sat next to her, looking out onto the garden. Any nurse that came in, Nana would reintroduce me to them. Tell them how proud she is of me. She would tell them I am ‘the most wonderful cook’. And, I mean who am I to remind her that we had met before and she had already shared that I could cook. A Grandparents brag is one of the very best brags and I, for one, am going to miss all the beautiful things she would say about me. I am so glad I didn’t interrupt her. I am glad I got to hear the beautiful things she felt and loved about me.
Our beautiful Nana sadly passed away last Thursday morning, the 27th of April at 9:30 am. I got to sit by her bed, one last time, the day before she left us. A few hours, on my own, to be with her. The nurses tell me she knew I was there and was responsive to my voice. I like to believe them. I did feel this myself but her eyes couldn’t open and she was slipping away.
I brushed her hair one last time and held her hand under her covers. Classical music played softly on her stereo, thanks to the nursing care and then the disc would shuffle back to one of her favourite boy bands….Human Nature (a new thing for me to discover in her final hours). I sang along with them to Nan for their cover of The Jackson 5 I’ll be there. I got to look at all her lovely little trinkets and photos around her room one last time. One of my favourite things of all is the salt and pepper shakers that were never too far away. Seasoning food correctly, she would tell us, was not one of the kitchen’s strongest points.
There have been many tears these past days. I can’t find the words to describe the pain and the loss but along with the sadness and grief are flashbacks of beautiful moments and memories that I know will come forward all the more in time. How lucky are we to have had these two amazing and very special people to have loved and to have called ‘Family’ for so long.
Heading back to the very start of this story, when I was sad all those years ago, my Nana & Pop invited me to dinner. It was one of the most memorable but simple meals I have had. Without fuss, Nana made her Pumpkin soup. We shared some wine whilst she warmed the bowls. They made me feel so loved at that table as my warm soup was poured into my warm bowl. A little cream was added right there at the table and then fresh parsley straight from the garden was added on top. It was the most delicious pumpkin soup I had ever eaten and my Nan hand wrote me the recipe which I treasure so very much. Whether it was the recipe itself or the fact that I felt so loved, I do not know but this is and always will be my favourite pumpkin soup recipe.
This particular soup makes me feel that everything will be okay. As I remember Nana and Pop at the dinner table – with me & this soup – it helps the heart to heal.
This recipe was first published in the Relish Mama cookbook in 2014 after we had lost Pop. Nana loved that her recipe and their photo were in that book. I hope that many of you have cooked this simple bowl of soup since then. This wonderful bowl of love.
To my Dad & our Aunty Judy….sending you the biggest hug of all.
All my love,
My Nana’s best-ever pumpkin soup
My Nana’s best-ever pumpkin soup
- 1 Heavy based saucepan
- Blender or stick blender
- 2 kg butternut pumpkin
- 1 red onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic skin on
- 2 tbsp Olive oil for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon Sea salt
- 750 ml chicken stock
- 150 ml cream plus extra to serve
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- Fresh parsley to serve
- Preheat the oven to 220°C.
- Cut the pumpkin in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds.
- Place the pumpkin, cut-side up, and onion on a baking tray.
- Wrap the garlic loosely in foil (to avoid burning) and drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Drizzle the pumpkin and onion with a little oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for 1 hour or until the pumpkin is just soft and starting to brown. Scoop the pumpkin out of the skin and into a blender.
- Scoop the onion flesh away from its skin and add to the blender. Squeeze the garlic directly out of its skin and into the blender. Add 1 cup (250ml) of the chicken stock and blend until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into a saucepan, and add the remaining stock, cream and honey. Place over medium heat until soup is heated through.
- Serve with my Nan’s touches of a little fresh parsley from the garden and a swirl of cream.
- A little freshly grated ginger or a squeeze of fresh orange juice is also a lovely addition to this soup during the cooking.
“As they sailed in a magical rowboat built for two”