Year of Grace, Day 8. Autumn is a turban squash

When the first turban squash makes its appearance in supermarkets, for me it is clearly autumn. This tough-shelled squash with its unusual, comical shape and often rough patches never fails to cheer me. Called Bischopsmütze (Bishop’s mitre), it belongs with pumpkins to the large group of “winter” squashes.  So called because they store well and keep over the winter, unlike the soft-skinned summer squashes such as zucchini. In addition to making me smile whenever I see them, they make me think of making soup: thick, substantial, warming soups. And squash soup makes me think of my Japanese ‘mother’, Hiroko, who made it with milk and nutmeg, and my daughter, who adores it, especially when made with caramelised onions and tomatoes, perked up with the heat of a red chilli, the way M makes it.


For me, there is no better complement to squash than prawns or shrimps. Yesterday being Monday, the fishmongers were closed, and I thought of trying to find dried shrimps or powdered shrimps in the Asian food shop in Old Town Bonn (Altstadt).

This part of Bonn has become truly multicultural. Just behind the new City Hall is a Moroccan food shop where I get harissa. Next door to it is a proper fishmonger where I buy wonderful whole squid intact with tentacles and ink sacs as well as gilt-head bream. I have never been a fan of hot peppery food or sauces, but I have become fond of this particular type of harissa: it is not too hot and it has a clean, clear flavour of red chillies, lemon juice, salt, and oil. Nothing else. There is also an African food shop that carries dried fish, plantains, and yams, next door to a zumba and capoeira studio. Just around the corner has to be one of the best artisanal ice cream makers in Bonn — Eislabor (‘Ice Cream Laboratory’). They make a small range of ice creams and sorbets, with no additions, just natural ingredients, sugar, and cream or water. No nuts or any other additions to mask the silky smoothness of their iced wares. The flavour of their fruit ice creams is pure delightful fruit! And their chocolate sorbet is so intense and creamy, it is hard to believe it is not made with cream. It is vastly superior to their chocolate ice cream.

At the other end of Altstadt, near Rosental, are a Turkish food shop and an Asian food shop. Over the six years I have lived in Bonn, I had only shopped at Jin Long near the entrance to the City Hall at Budapesterstrasse. I am thankful, really thankful to have found this other one as they have a more diverse  selection. Yesterday as I said I was looking for dried shrimps. I didn’t find those or perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place, but I found frozen, delicate-looking, white prawns instead. I find gigantic prawns tough and prefer the medium-sized ones. I also discovered frozen jackfruit! And of all things – champuy! The hard, sour, salty ones. I haven’t had those in ages! I also found blachan or trasi, fermented fish paste in block form, which I then used to flavour the squash soup. Its aroma in the soup reminded me of the fermented anchovy sauce (bugguong in Ilocano, bagoong in Tagalog) that is de rigueur in Ilocano dishes and I was reminded of my mother’s pinakbet, a slowly braised Ilocano dish of aubergines, bitter melon, and other vegetables in anchovy sauce, ginger, and tomatoes, which is akin in consistency to Mallorcan tumbet or the homely French dish, ratatouille.

I am truly grateful to have found what I was in search of and to discover new food ingredients as well. The squash soup, graced with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) found at the Turkish shop, made a lovely supper. I think I overdid it slightly with the prawns which I cooked a la plancha. I adore seafood and although I can eat a lot of it, last night’s pile of prawns was a tad piggish. 🙂  I am more than thankful that the squash soup did turn out well and went very well with prawns, as I had imagined. One other thing I am grateful for: I understood 100% what was being announced as a schedule change at the tram stop. That has never happened before.

Beautiful soup & bone broth

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!….

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

 Beautiful Soup!/ Who cares for fish, Game or any other dish?….

 Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland



I have no idea why the words “soup” and “broth” conjure up such homely comfort. Could it be because warm liquids —mother’s milk and other semi-liquid hot foods like porridge— constituted our first meals? Soup and broth bring to mind concentrated flavours of meat and aromatic vegetables, piping hot and steaming with wholesomeness. A bowl of bone broth twice or thrice weekly is Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminets’ recommendation for adequate intake of calcium, collagen, and magnesium. The fear of osteoporosis makes  high-dose calcium supplementation very attractive for older women, but rather than being beneficial, in many cases supplementation has increased rates of hip fractures and strokes,  as noted in their book, Perfect Health Diet (PHD). Other than that included in my multivitamins, I’ve never taken any additional calcium. I’ve stopped taking multivitamins since starting the PHD but do take 200 mg magnesium and 800 IU of Vit. D3. The benefits of collagen, particularly for back pain, which I have from time to time, convinced me to try the Jaminets’ grass-fed beef bone broth.

Where would I get grass-fed bones for broth in Bonn? Do I even know how to say that in German? I do now: “Gras gefüttert.” That makes for quite a mouthful: Gras gefütterten Rindsuppenknochen (grass-fed beef soup bones).  The supermarkets in my neighbourhood are quite basic, and though  the meat section in my local Edeka has ox tail and other slices of bone-in meat,  I’ve never seen any labelled specifically as “soup bones”  (Suppenknochen). The butcher shop on Bonner Talweg came immediately to mind, but unfortunately they had none. What they had was one meaty flatrib, which I was happy to take, as there was no other butcher shop in the vicinity, at least as far as I know.  “It’s more flavourful than just bones,” the woman cheerily assured me as she wrapped it up. Around the corner, Rewe turned out, on closer inspection, to have organic soup beef (Bio Rindsuppenfleisch). Funny that I missed seeing it when I checked earlier before going to the butcher. Alas, there was just one piece, so I added another non-organic pack.  Altogether the soup meat totalled about 1.17 kg (~2 lb). I shall have to investigate where in Bonn one can get grass-fed beef soup bones.

For some reason, the rib meat from the butcher was a bit whiffy and greyish-maroon so I rinsed it thoroughly in cold water. You can see the difference clearly in the photo above:  the butcher’s meat is on the bottom left.  I didn’t rinse the other pieces as they looked and smelled wholesome. I put all the meaty bones into a pressure cooker without the lid for this preparatory stage, added enough water to cover (about 2 liters or 2000 ml; 8 cups, with 1 cup = 250 ml), and brought all to a simmer. A bit of scum rose to the surface, and I lowered the heat further to encourage more scum to be exuded. This time a fair amount filled the surface: I raised the heat to quickly bring all to a boil and turned off the heat at once. I rinsed the parboiled bones to get rid of all blood and other residue. There was a lot of congealed brown residue at the bottom and sides of the pot, which needed a vigorous scrubbing. The liquid smelled good and meaty even at this point, and I was rather sorry to throw it out as I hate wasting food. I was tempted at first to just skim off the scum, as I have seen my mother do when she made beef soup. In the end, I decided to follow the Jaminets’ directions, threw out the parboiling liquid, and returned the rinsed meat into the pot.

 However, I departed from the Jaminets’ pure bone and water broth recipe by adding aromatics: leek and ginger. I didn’t peel the ginger — just cut it into three and pounded them with the flat side of a cleaver. As long as it’s been washed, there’s no need to peel ginger for stock or soup. I secured the lid of the pressure cooker, set the pressure to low, and turned the heat to medium. Once the steam started to hiss from the vents (signalling that the designated pressure has been reached), I reduced the heat to a minimum and let the pressure work its magic for an hour. (It’s a totally different pressure cooker from the one I had in the UK, so I’m still a bit wary of using it.)

The reason that the Jaminets do not add any flavouring vegetables to their broth is to make it keep longer under refrigeration. I’m following my taste buds: as the Jaminets themselves say, if it tastes good, it will also be good healthwise. As well, my “soup bones” were actually mostly meat with very few bones. The broth was indeed very tasty even without salt, and I also added it to other dishes during the week. It kept very well for 10 days in the fridge. It could probably have lasted longer, but M and I finished it all by then. The meat, despite the hour’s pressure cooking, retained plenty of flavour. As the Jaminets make as many as 3 batches of broth from the same bones, I froze the few bones from this batch and intend to reuse them when I can find more bones.