Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Recipe: Borcht and a story

When Robin was in Vancouver visiting his brother, John, last week, I made some borcht from gifts of garden abundance that friends passed along. Borcht is a traditional food of the Doukhobor culture. Although I'm not of Doukhobor heritage, I like to have some put by for the winter. It uses up the prolific garden abundance from our own garden and that passed along by friends. It is also convenient in the winter and is a comfort food in the long,cold days.

I canned the borscht in the pressure canner and had it sitting on the counter cooling by the time I went to bed on Tuesday night. Generally I don’t like the smell of cabbage and onions cooking. It is sulfur-odoriferous. It gets on your clothing and kind of hangs in the air for a few days. But I persevered because I like the convenience of being able to open a jar for lunch instead of starting each meal from scratch.

During the night the sulfur smell intensified. It was so bad that I developed a headache and nausea in my sleep. I started to wonder why I was so dumb as to spend my whole day making borcht. The smell was unbearable. It permeated the whole house from the kitchen.

At 4am it was so intense that I couldn’t handle it any more. I fumbled in the dark to find the window on Robin’s side of the bed and opened it. I took one very deep breath. I closed it immediately. A skunk was passing by right under the bedroom window. That was the smell.

I went outside about 2 hours later and the smell still hung in the air. Gelato, our male Maremma, rolled over in a submissive position when he saw me. I thought he had been skunked. (Thankfully he hadn’t). He came over and started talking to me – “Ra, ra, ra, ra”. Complaining, as if to say, “Mom I really like you, but there is no way I am going to chase that skunk away from your window. You’ll just have to wait until he goes away on his own. Sorry.”

The skunk did go away. And since Gelato hadn’t been skunked, the intense smell disappeared, too. But my headache and nausea lasted until the afternoon. I’m making more borscht today. Hopefully, the skunk won’t be attracted back.

Recipe for Borscht
1 head of cabbage sliced very thinly
3 medium onions, sliced very thinly
Fry together in 1/4 cup of butter

In a separate pot boil 8 - 10 medium potatoes, peeled, until soft. Drain and reserve liquid. Mash.

Put cabbage mixture, mashed potatoes and cooking liquid, in stock pot and fill pot half full with water.
Add one beet, peeled and grated coarsely

Add seasonal vegetables, finely chopped, such as:
Bok Choy

Add fresh dill and salt to taste. Simmer for 3 hours.
Fill clean quart/litre glass canning jars, leaving a 2 inch head space. Seal with two part lids according to manufacturers directions. Process in a pressure canner for 45 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure (15 lbs pressure at high altitude).

To serve, empty jar into saucepan, reheat to boiling, serve with cream, sour cream or yogurt -- a generous spoonful in each bowl. Serve with warm bread, homemade crackers or chapatis and butter.

It tastes better than the smell of cabbage and onions frying in butter. And the smell does go away after the pot is simmering on the stove.

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