• The Retired Firehouse Cook: Borscht

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    Back up 33 years to when I was footloose and fancy free and I took a motorcycle trip up the Alaskan Highway, all the way to the Arctic Circle with a firefighter buddy named Henry. We camped and slogged through the mud (the highway wasn’t paved then) and generally did guy stuff like avoiding moose and eating a lot of salmon. One night we stayed in an abandoned, overturned van on the side of the road. Another night we slept in a boxcar on a siding (good thing the engine didn’t come and drag us off to Saskatchewan) and that’s where I learned to dislike borscht, Russia’s famous beet soup.
    The night we had borscht, shared by a couple of other guys sleeping in the same boxcar, Henry took his share politely, and after dinner we rolled out our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Sometime in the night, Henry got up to use the facilities so to speak, although there weren’t any so that meant he went outside. I didn’t know it, but he hated borscht and took his Thermos out with him and dumped the soup in the snow.
    At dawn, it was my turn to slip out of the boxcar. I saw that soup in the snow and immediately thought poor Henry had been eaten by a bear. He hadn’t been, of course, but that only made me feel moderately better.
    From that day on, I couldn’t look at borscht without remembering the shock I had that morning.
    A few years ago, Marge Ann and I lucked out and got a hot deal on a cold cruise. It was a cheap fare on the last boat to go down the river from St. Petersburg, Russia to Moscow before the snows began and the river became a skating rink. The crew realized that tourist tips were over so they were extra nice to us. They served us their famous national specialty, borscht. Well, it was a whole bunch different from that stuff I had in Alaska. So much so that I snagged the recipe and now make it on a regular basis.

    Authentic Borscht
    1 lb raw beets
    1 small green cabbage
    6 cups stock (beef bouillion)
    2 potatoes, diced
    1 carrot, grated
    salt, pepper, 1 Tbsp. sugar
    2 Tbsp. white vinegar
    1 cup sour cream

    Shred the cabbage, add to the stock. Peel beets, grate coarsely and add; add potatoes and carrot. Add seasoning: salt, pepper, sugar.
    Simmer 25 min.
    Serve sour cream in separate bowl.

    Polish Borscht
    1 1/2 pounds pork spareribs
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    2 Tbsp. white vinegar
    6 medium golden beets
    2 large red potatoes
    2 cups sour cream
    2 cups milk
    3 Tbsp. flour
    Salt and freshly ground coarse pepper

    The reason I listed the following instructions in the order that I did is that it takes the longest amount of time to do the ribs. Second longest is the beets, then the cabbage and so on. Total cooking time from when the ribs start to simmer should be about an hour to and hour and a half.
    In a large pot combine the spare ribs, onion, bay leaf and vinegar and cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Wash and trim up the beets and coarsely grate them into the soup pot with the ribs. Shred the cabbage and add it to the pot. Dice the potatoes and add them to the pot. Cook until the meat is tender.
    When the meat is tender, remove the bones and strip off the meat in bite size pieces. Return the meat to the broth. Season the soup with salt and pepper. In a large bowl stir together the sour cream, milk and flour. Add two cups of the hot stock to the sour cream mixture and stir to combine. Add the sour cream mixture back into the main pot. Keep the soup hot over medium heat at a gentle simmer, but do not allow it to boil. Boiling will make the sour cream curdle. Serve immediately with a hearty peasant bread.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 6, 2009

    Topics: The Retired Firehouse Cook


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