Borscht (Recipe and History)

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I got this in an email forward from my cousin Sandy 🙂 the history is as interesting as the recipe! Teresa

> Folks,
>
> Here’s something for those cold winter nights. . . .
>
> Bors or borst is a Ukranian cabbage soup with vegetables — often using beets. The name comes from the Slavic word for beet.
>
> The Mennonite version of the soup comes from the Mennonite colonies of South Russia (as Ukraine was called at the time) in the years 1788 — 1900; where tomatoes and potatoes were substituted for beets. In that case the name came from its low-German spelling: “Borscht.”
>
> The Dutch-originated Mennonites emigrated from Danzig (Prussia or North Germany; today Poland) to the Ukraine beginning in 1788.
>
> Borscht originated with the Ukrainians: a mildly tart soup made of root vegetables (beets, potatoes, onions, turnips, carrots) because they could be easily preserved in cool weather. It was cooked alternately with beef, pork, or chicken. It included tartness by adding beets or rye (or fermented beets or rye or yeast).
>
> Mennonites used, instead: tomatoes, lemon juice, and vinegar for tartness. They added cream or cream cheese when it was served.
>
> Mennonites adopted cabbage as the main ingredient instead of beets.
>
> Sometimes they used hot peppers in the soup.
>
> The Mennonites from the Molotschna colony especially liked dill weed in their borscht.
>
> I grew up on Borscht and have cooked it many times over the years while I lived in LA. My Grandma Penner and Grandma Hildebrand cooked it often; I still remember their versions. My Mom’s version is the main source for my recipe.
>
> It’s a poor-person’s food. Over the years in LA (especially in the early 1980s when I was hard-up) I could cook a large pot for very little money (using only vegetables and beef or chicken bones) and keep re-boiling it every two days. It lasted a long time. It saved me from going without food many times.
>
> I decided recently that I would cook a large pot on New Year’s Day (I haven’t done this in years) and also bake zwieback. (I’ve baked zwieback.a number of times recently and I’m getting good at it.)
>
> Anyway – I decided to ask what you think of my version of the recipe of Borscht. Do you have variations? Am I doing it according to tradition? Is it right? I’d be interested to know.
>
> Here’s my version:
>
>
> Mennonite South Russian/Canadian California Borscht:
>
> By Rick Penner (his version of recipe)
>
> Ingredients:
>
> Beef bones
> Beef shank
> Salt
> Pepper (peppercorns if possible)
> Vinegar
> Garlic
> Onions (and/or green onions)
> Carrots
> Celery
> Parsley
> Bay leaf
> Star anise
> Dill weed or seed
> Basil (my invention)
> Potatoes
> Cabbage
> Tomatoes (I cut up fresh; and sometimes add tomato paste or juice; I don’t use canned tomatoes, though this is common)
> Cream cheese
> Beef broth
>
> Note: What makes this version Canadian is the addition of star anise: my Mom (Ella Penner) and Grandparents came from Canada: they always used star anise which they used to get from relatives in Canada (they would send it in a box; apparently it came from China; in the 1950s/1960s you couldn’t get it in our stores here in USA).
>
> Allspice is another Canadian addition. I sometimes use this in very minor quantities (so it’s “sensed” instead of actually tasted).
>
> What makes it Californian: I add basil (my invention) because it goes good with soup. Also: garlic is not always used in early Mennonite recipes but I consider it a necessity. I sometimes also add cut squash or corn or bell peppers; or use green onions instead of regular onions. You can use other vegetables based on local availability but you cannot use those that significantly change the original flavor (or it’s not Borscht).
>
> IT MUST HAVE: cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, dill, parsley, vinegar (or lemon), and pepper to be authentic South Russian Mennonite (Molotschna) Borscht.
>
>Full directions after the jump….
> Directions:
>
> ((1)) — Cover large beef bones (you can buy these as “soup bones” in store — very cheap) and beef shank with water in large pot (any beef will work; I use the cheapest I can get, which is usually shank). Add small amount of salt and vinegar; bring to boil and then turn down and simmer for two hours. If you want, you can add some store-bought beef broth. When two hours are up, let cool to lukewarm. Then take out bones (throw away); take out beef and cut up and put in refrigerator (in plastic bag). Pour stock through a sieve; keep stock in refrigerator in large bowl overnight.
>
> ((2)) — Next day: fat will rise to top of beef stock in refrigerator and solidify. Remove hard fat and throw away most of it (leave a little for flavor).
>
> ((3)) — Add garlic and cut onions and shredded (or thinly-sliced) carrots and cut-celery and parsley to stock; add bay leaf, dill seed (or fresh dill weed, if you can get it), star anise in spice holder, basil, (possibly small amount of allspice), and bring to boil; then turn down and simmer.
>
> ((4)) — Add cut potatoes. Simmer some more.
>
> ((5)) — Add cabbage and simmer.
>
> ((6)) — Add tomatoes and cut-up beef (from day before) last. Simmer some more (but not too much — we’re almost done; you want the potatoes and cabbage and tomatoes to be tender but not overcooked). Add a little fresh garlic (again) if you want.
>
> ((6)) — Before serving remove Bay Leaf. Add slight amount of lemon juice (or vinegar, but I prefer lemon) and salt and add lots of pepper or peppercorns (I love this). Add on top of individual bowls a small dollop of cream cheese and a sprig of fresh parsley.
>
> ((7)) — Serve with some kind of home-made bread or zwieback. Yeah!!!
>
> Soup should be hot, spicy with pepper, and slightly astringent (lemony). I understand some Canadian households included hot peppers.
>
> What do you cooks think?
>
>
> Rick Penner

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5 responses »

  1. Rather good entry, definitely useful information. Never considered I would obtain the information I would like right here. I have been hunting all around the web for some time now and had been starting to get frustrated. Luckily, I came across your page and received exactly what I was searching for.

  2. My family are also Mennonite from southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, arriving from Russia in 1873. Our family used most of your ingredients but not the garlic, star anise or cream cheese. We did use star anise in chicken soup, however, along with homemade egg noodles (kielkje). I will have to try it in borscht as well and also the cream cheese which we have never heard of. Sounds good :-). We used summer savoury in schaubelzuppe (wax bean and potato soup done with hambones). Thanks for posting this.

    • Very interesting. My grandmother made the same recipes of Borscht and zwieback! Always served together. Grandpa Henry Esau came from the Molotschna Village. Would love to know where you got the history of the origins of Borchst. Also, if you would be interested in sharing genealogy? (am related to Penners)

  3. Very interesting. My grandmother made the same recipes of Borscht and zwieback! Always served together. Grandpa Henry Esau came from the Molotschna Village. Would love to know where you got the history of Borchst. Also, if you would be interested in sharing genealogy? (am related to Penners)

    • Sorry I cannot answer your questions. My cousin (by marriage) shared this with me. I don’t know the origins or genealogy connected to the story. Her family has strong Mennonite connections but mine does not.

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