In Defense of November, and Sweet Potato Soup

November, the month so many people love to hate (here in the North), stayed true to form and began with a cold rain. The romance of autumn wears off as bright colored leaves, stripped from trees by November winds, turn brown underfoot, and begin the process of decay.  What remains in gardens looks sad…squash and beans that didn’t quite mature while the weather was more favorable, begin to rot on their vines in the cold and wetness.

In the Northwest November is traditionally one of the rainiest months. In the 70s, while living in Oregon, I remember a November when all 30 days had significant, measurable rainfall.  It was a dark month!  There have been equally wet Novembers since, the last record breaker was 2006 with 11.6 inches of rain by November 15th.

Quotes from poets and writers about November seem mostly to be about darkness, death, cold, rain and snow. December, though days are shorter, is welcomed because there are reasons to celebrate and eat rich foods! A month filled with holidays of light, December brings the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, after which it’s all up hill to the light of spring – sort of.  Personally, I find January the dreariest of months.


I feel it is time to defend November.  After all it’s ‘my’ month. Female readers of the baby boom generation may remember little china angels one would get for their birth month. My ‘November angel’, found tucked in a box in the attic, has symbols of abundance and a very sweet face. Not an angel of darkness at all!


Orcas Island, November 2010.

Perusing my photo library, I find stunning photos over the years of November days, low winter sun providing dramatic lighting for beautiful sky shots.  Definitely a month of transition. Many photos show trees still in vivid color, taking their time to let go of leaves, yet there are also many late November snow scenes. We have a peach tree that stays green until November, then turns gold. High bush cranberry bushes are in their peak of  pale yellow and red coloration. And Osier Dogwoods, though windblown, are festive with leaves of red, maroon, and shades of green.


sweet potato, leek and apple soup with goat cheese

And did you know November is Sweet Potatoes Awareness Month? (Not to be confused with Sweet Potato Month in February, I could find no explanation for why sweet potatoes have two months).  If there is a vegetable that needs an awareness month it is the sweet potato.  Most stores, and many people, call orange sweet potatoes yams and lots of folks think they are a potato, which they aren’t.  (Here’s some info to clear up any confusion)

IMG_5068My latest quickie soup is Sweet Potato, leek & apple soup. My first batch had 2 or 3 medium orange sweet potatoes, a parsnip, the upper green part of a leek and a chopped apple. After everything is cooked soft (add the apple half way through) blend the whole batch into a thick creamy soup.  Variations included a yellow sweet potato in place of the parsnip; or add cashews for richness and additional thickness. In today’s batch, half of a chopped onion and pre-cooked brown rice gave it a little more zing and substance. I season it primarily with my homemade curry powder and/or churna mix, any cumin rich blend seems compatible with sweet potatoes and helps the tummy to digest this ‘heavy’ food.


…in November…the season that follows the hour of the dead, the crowning and majestic hours of autumn, I go to visit the chrysanthemums …They are indeed, the most universal, the most diverse of flowers.

I love reading the above quote from Belgium poet Maurice Maeterlinck, an ode to November’s flower, which fills florist shops and grocery stores and survive in early winter gardens.  As a young person I felt a little cheated having ‘my’ birth month flower be something I didn’t then consider beautiful, (I did love the giant, yellow, pompom mums I wore to homecoming games.)  My favorites were among the flowers of spring and summer.  But I grew to love chrysanthemums and look forward to seeing the variety of colors and shapes available this time of year. The rest of the year there are the ubiquitous daisy-like chrysanthemums, but the rainbow of golds, shades of purples, and light and dark bronzes, makes one appreciate why the chrysanthemum is Japan’s national flower, which they celebrate with a Festival of Happiness!


High Bush Cranberry peak in their rich red coloration in November.

What isn’t there to love about a month that gives you a great excuse to make a pot of soup, buy some flowers, and curl up with a good book while the wind blows and the rain falls. But be ready to venture out when the skies clear. November is a month where things are swept clean, and you really can see the forest through the trees. It’s big holiday lasts only one day, and it’s purpose is to celebrate gratitude!

Happy November!


12 thoughts on “In Defense of November, and Sweet Potato Soup

  1. Pingback: “Are you Jewish?” | Huckleberry Wanderings

  2. I think of your mom every November, well, I think of her other times too, but always in November when we share birthday greetings! Thank you for the kind remarks Carolynn.


  3. Penney beautiful and eloquent. You must have been a great writer and photographer in your last life. Your birthday is coming up here real soon. And my dear mom’s a week later. She would have been 93. Love and light to you and Mike, Carolynnn

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  4. Dear Jane… managed just fine to leave a post here! And Happy Birthday to you my dear! You and Keith both looked vibrant last night and the exhibit is amazing! Such diversity, yet went together so well. Enjoy your birthday week, rather OUR birthday week! Honored to share not only the same month but same week with you…..though you are still a young’n! :o)


  5. Wonderful poem Christina! Thank you for sharing this! Honored to have one of your poems here! I hope with the suggestion for warm comforting soup and beautiful flowers you will figure out what to do with November! ;o)


  6. Great to see you and Mike last night….thanks so much for coming! I LOVE your “Defense of November”!! One of your best blogs, I think. I can never figure out how to leave a comment on your blog. (As you know I’m very deficient in these things!). Anyway…happy birth month to you! JH xxoo

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  7. Penney – Your blog prompted me to track down this poem, written in the earliest months of my residency as a North Carolina Visiting Artist, November 1986, in Charlotte NC at Central Piedmont Community College.

    November: What Will We Do With It?

    This month of frost and rain-
    slick leaves, gray-shrouded.
    Sun failing, dawn and
    dusk, indistinguishable.

    Ask the tree who tingles
    at the edge of a great sleep,
    branches yawning black
    against the sky.

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  8. November is MY month, too. Thanks for the the lovely thoughts, recipe and the cheerful flowers. My Grandpa used to grow mums in big bunches all around our house in Iowa in the 60’s. I have a fondness for mums, but I wish they smelled better 🙂

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