Mixed Review: Crate & Barrel Pumpkin Chowder

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[Photographs: Lucy Baker]

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Maggie & Mary's Creamy Pumpkin Soup. It was so spicy and warming, I still thought about it long after slurping up the last spoonful.

Squash-based soups make wonderful winter weeknight meals. Not only are they quick, satisfying, and healthy, they also chase the chill out of your bones faster than my mother chases my brother out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning.

Last week I found myself unable to resist another batch of pumpkin soup. This time, I opted for Crate & Barrel's Pumpkin Chowder ($6.95). Unlike Maggie & Mary's soup (smooth and evenly textured) this one incorporates rice and chunks of vegetables.

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The package of soup mix layered powdered pumpkin with parboiled rice and a medley of dehydrated vegetables including (according to the label) carrots, onions, red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and celery. To prepare it, all I had to do was combine everything in a large stockpot with one cup of water and four cups of vegetable stock. Once the soup had bubbled away for 20 minutes, I added two cups of cream (half-and-half or milk could be substituted) and warmed it gradually.

Dipping my trusty wooden spoon into the bowl, I took the first taste. Bland. Really bland. I added a big pinch of kosher salt and several grinds of fresh pepper and tasted again. Still blah. I added even more salt and pepper. Then a little bit more. The instructions said to season the soup to taste, but this was ridiculous. I must have dumped a whole tablespoon of salt and several teaspoons of pepper before it was palatable.

It was good enough to eat but I wouldn't make this again. Aside from needing just about a mine's worth of salt, the carrot flavor was overwhelming. The dehydrated flakes had blossomed into large chunks that floated on top of my bowl like algae on a pond, obliterating the taste of other vegetables and, most importantly, the pumpkin. I kept pushing it out of the way to get at what was underneath.

Ultimately, if you're looking to satisfy a squash soup craving, you're better off pureeing your own batch of butternut.

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