Borscht brings back memories and gives comfort on a cold day

BY BILL HORNER III, Publisher
Posted 3/8/19

Our long-suffering spate of cold and wet and nasty weather has gotten me thinking about, and craving for, something my wife occasionally cooks up as a special treat: borscht.

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Borscht brings back memories and gives comfort on a cold day

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Posted

Our long-suffering spate of cold and wet and nasty weather has gotten me thinking about, and craving for, something my wife occasionally cooks up as a special treat: borscht.

If you’re not familiar with it, borscht is a traditional Eastern European soup made with beets and beef stock and potatoes and cabbage and a variety of other vegetables. The beets give it a distinctive sour taste and deep red color, and when it’s good, and served piping hot, and you put the required dollop of sour cream in it, it’s equal parts hearty and heavenly — particularly on a cold, stay-inside day.

There’s just nothing else like it, taste-wise.

My first exposure to borscht was back in 1989 when I traveled to Moscow as a part of a two-week citizen diplomat exchange. It was the fall of that year and the Cold War was winding down. The frigid Russian winter was getting ready to wind up, though, and when the soup was served as an appetizer at our very first meal, I was game.

I vaguely remember not being too impressed with its flavor, but since it was a staple of our dining experiences there it grew on me. To commemorate the memory a few years later, on an anniversary trip to New York City, I took wife Lee Ann to the famous Russian Tea Room for lunch to sample some more. A different environment, to be sure, but it was still good. (Today, a bowl of borscht there for lunch or dinner will set you back a heavy $24.)

The last three Octobers we’ve traveled to Ukraine — where borscht is also a staple — on one-week mission trips. Although I was more partial to the Ukrainian classic okroshka — a cold soup with cucumbers, radishes, onions, boiled potatoes, eggs and ham that’s deliciously refreshing on a warm day — we did have borscht on a few occasions, and also learned then how difficult the soup is to make.

If you have an Instant Pot, one of those trendy (for good reason) pressure cookers that make creating meals fast and fun, borscht is still a bit of a chore, particularly if you make your own beef stock. But we’ve had a blast preparing, and of course eating, our creation when the mood has struck us. The big pots we cook up serve as both lunch and dinner over two days, and we never tire of it.

And, of course, when Lee Ann makes it, we share the requisite photos of the soup through social media with friends in Ukraine and Poland, who respond with plenty of “thumbs up” but also with challenges — try it with garlic, try “green” (sorrel-based) borscht, etc.

Part of what makes the borscht so good is the association it brings with our trips overseas. And that gets me thinking about favorite dishes we’ve had on other travels — fish and chips in Scotland (served wrapped in newsprint and with a cup of smashed peas), barbecue pork in China, Viennese “apfelstrudel” (apple strudel) in Austria. And other foods we weren’t as partial to, including whole grilled frog at a meal in Shanghai and the traditional Scottish haggis, a pudding of stuff I’d rather not think about, boiled in a sheep’s stomach, which we enthusiastically boycotted during a week in Glasgow.

The calendar tells me that spring is coming, but more cool, wet weather in our forecast, you can bet I’m feeling the urge for borscht.

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