Sunday, February 8, 2015

Soup and Family and Facebook

Around the time my Mom died, two cousins I'd barely got to know set up a Facebook page for the extended family, published a family history going back several hundred years to our French and First Nations heritage, and organized a family reunion. Since then, we've all got to know each other a bit better, and despite all the very legitimate complaints I make and hear about Facebook, I continue to be grateful for the platform as a way to bind families.

A few weeks ago, for example, my mother's "baby brother" posted his recollections of the first borscht he'd sampled, made by my then 18-year old mother with whatever provisions she could garner in the family kitchen. Apparently, he wasn't very impressed by the soup, but years later was converted thanks to an older sister's rendition, and he bragged that he now made his own very fine version of that soup regularly.
This is a photo of my mom, circa. 18, and the two younger brothers who might not have appreciated her borscht as much as she'd hoped. (This is the jauntiest photo I've ever seen of my Mom in her youth, a revelation to all my siblings, I think, when it was unearthed at some point after her funeral.)

I was more than a bit defensive of my poor mom, who went on to become a pretty decent cook, feeding her very large brood well, stretching the budget in creative and tasty ways. But I was also happy to try out the recipe that my Aunt E. the older sister in my uncle's culinary reminiscence, had passed on to her daughter, who posted it on FB that same day.

Like the seafood chowder recipe I posted recently, this is very flexible. My cousin begins by boiling 1-2 large potatoes and 3 large carrots until soft. mash. Don't drain.
Meanwhile, sauté 1 finely chopped onion; 1 chopped cabbage; beets (apparently my aunt wasn't a fan, so her borscht included only a token beet. I added 3, diced); chopped beet leaves or chard (I chopped up some kale that needed to be used up) in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of butter (I know! I gasped at the 1/2 cup as well! But let's be honest: that would yield an excellent flavour!).
Once all is wilted and translucent, add a 28-ounce tin of tomatoes (preferably diced or crushed). A half cup of fresh dill weed would be good to add at this point. I had none, and relied on bay leaf, salt, and pepper for flavour. By now, you may add the mashed carrot-potato mixture and as much water as suits (about 4-6 cups).
Simmer until well cooked, and at this point, my cousin, following her mother's recipe, adds 1/2 cup each of milk and cream (table/coffee cream, not full-on whipping cream!). I didn't bother adding this, but instead added a dollop of sour cream to my bowl.
Meanwhile, Pater had been busy, with this happy result....
Et voilĂ ! A simple marriage made in heaven! Peasant food sublime, especially on a winter's day
Thanks, Uncle B, for the inspiration, and Cousin C. for sharing so generously from the family archive. And thanks, Facebook, for letting us share family memories and make new ones...
I'd love to hear your stories of family recipes shared or of ways that Facebook connects... Or of how you make your own borscht...



13 comments:

  1. Looks delicious and nutritious....it's definitely soup season!

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  2. Borscht was a staple in our household, but it was the cabbage version, without beets. I like them both. Memories are often sparked by food and recipes. I lost an aunt this week and have been thankful for Facebook and the opportunity to connect with my cousins from far and wide.
    Your borscht recipe sounds delicious and warming - the temperatures are warming up, but soup is always welcome.

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    1. I know there's a version of borscht that's non-beet (and I think my aunt would have preferred that). Personally, the more beets the better.
      My condolences on the loss of your aunt -- FB doesn't offer the same comfort as gathering physically, but it's a solace nonetheless when that gathering's impossible. Take care.

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  3. I'm SO saving this recipe. Have been wanting to find a good (and easy) borscht recipe for ages. Tonight I made an old family favorite, Original Joe's. It's a scramble with garlic, onions, ground chuck, eggs and spinach. I haven't had it in probably 40+ years but it was as good as I remembered.

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    1. I looked that scramble up -- it looks like a great combo, the kind of retro that's en vogue again . . .

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  4. That sour-sweet tang is fabulous. Some use cabbage, some use beef or sausage, but to me, there have to be plenty of beets, to get that ruby broth, and what other soup is that transcendent red?

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    1. I'd tend to throw in whatever meat might be leftover from the last few days' meals, I think, but otherwise I'm happy with the veggie version. I suspect the recipe originated in some pretty flexible kitchens. . . I do love the colour, with the beet version.

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  5. My mom always made borscht when I was growing up. It was my favorite soup. I'm looking forward to making some. We always added sour cream. And that reminds me, on a different subject, that I found myself recently in a group of adults who remember never tasting sour cream until they were well into adulthood. They believed it didn't exist 50 or 60 years ago. Not in my neck of the woods; we all ate sour cream, so it must be a regional thing.

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    1. Hmmm, what did they make their Onion Soup Mix chip dip with, in that case?! I'm only partly kidding -- so many of those 50s-70s dishes seemed to rely on a mix of onion soup mix and sour cream or cream of mushroom soup and sour cream or . . . well, you get the idea. And I remember a pyrogy place that opened near where I lived in the early 70s, rather an ethnic novelty in that small city -- wouldn't have had the same appeal without the sour cream, I'm sure!

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  6. Borscht is something I've never tried to make, but I think I'd like to after reading your post. One of my sisters is married to a man whose background is Polish. When her in-laws came for Christmas one year she wanted to impress them with a no-holds-barred Polish Christmas Eve traditional supper. She did. It came from the Polish Deli, and was all re-packaged into her own pots and casserole dishes. I'll never forget that the borscht came in three sizes. She bought the 'Bucket of Borscht'.
    I have stories, too, about connecting with family through the internet. I'll have to dust them off!

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    1. That's a great story! What a clever way to impress the in-laws -- probably a much more relaxed ambience for dinner than if she'd fussed and fussed over dishes she wasn't familiar with. And really? There's a Bucket of Borscht?!
      Do dust your stories off -- a Pondside post when you find a spot of blogging time.

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  7. With us it's my grandmother's Potato soup .
    Quite simple you'd think ... but none of us cousins can get it quite right . I don't think we're getting the ingredients wrong . Potatoes , leeks , stock from a ham bone and some chicken , and a small amount of very finely grated carrot at the end .
    We're just not Granny .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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