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White (Easter) Borscht

  • b

Ok - so my mom's parents were from Poland and they immigrated to France when Hitler came to visit, thus mom was raised in France. This being said we have a mixed bag of culinary traditions in our family. Christmas Eve is a prime example - over time a typically Polish meal of golombki, peirogi, ham and white borscht now includes a Tamale course thanks to years of living in the Southwest.

The white borscht mom serves on Christmas Eve is the same that we ate at Easter but the Easter version included some chopped egg as well. As a child, teen and young adult I have to say I really didn’t like borscht – I think it had to do with being forced to eat it as a child. Not surprisingly, those who have joined the family through marriage really seem to like it. So, while I have made an effort to learn how to make pierogi’s and could probably manage a half way decent golombki – the white borchst is out of my league.

Now you may be asking where is this post going ... and here is the deal, I really want to make this for Christmas Eve this year. Sadly, my mom is in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease and you just never know what she will and will not recall. Last year’s tradition held and dinner was at mom and dad’s but mom’s borscht just didn’t taste like it always did. This year – the family will gather at my home and while none of us love the stuff , there is a certain nostalgia that makes me want to serve it and more importantly, I would like to make it for mom, who while she may not recognize it I expect will like the taste.

This is what I do remember about how mom makes her White Borscht. She starts by making a stock a couple days before that she uses smoked ham hocks as the base (this tells me to be cautious with the salt). The stock is chilled and de-fatted. The meat gets picked off the bone to add back to the soup and from time to time some cubed kielbasa made it in as well. I guess what comes next is what the real question is. I know that the soup is thickened with some corn starch and water and I know some combination of sour cream and horseradish get added for flavor, creaminess and the distinct tartness that this soup has. I don’t remember any milk or cream being added. For many years this soup was topped with reconstituted, creamy, Polish mushrooms that relatives would send my mom. This is where some of the breakdown occurred last year, I think she used dried porcini and they just didn’t have the same and certainly not distinct flavor the Polish mushrooms did. I would like to try and determine what type of dried mushroom is used in Poland and try to find some before Christmas Eve.

So with the description above if anyone has any pointers or suggestions on how to pull this soup together I would appreciate it. I have searched the web for recipes for white borscht but most use a soured flour mixture which I know mom did not.

Happy Holidays!

Bz

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  1. I can't help with a recipe but I do hope you find one.

    But as for the mushrooms have you thought about using dried morels? The flavor is very similiar to those I've had in Eastern European/Russian households. A few years ago we had a very fine Russian meal and the cook (took place in Los Angeles) sub'd morels along with crimini in a soup. She said they were very similiar for X muchroom she had at their dacha in the good old days. I believe she lived in both Russia and Poland before emigrating. She was a very, very fine cook.

    1. I will try and track this down for you, but your family's version sounds quite different from a typical white borscht (zurek). There is a restaurant (really more of a luncheonette) I go to that has wonderful zurek, and I think I can get their recipe for you, but it doesn't have mushrooms. It's the sour soup, served with a half a hard boiled egg (kept whole) floating in it, slices of bialy kielbasa, and a dollop of mashed potato in the center. Maybe yours is a special Easter celebration version that I'm not familiar with.

      1. OK, I have an update, I just asked my mother. Most white borscht is made on a dark rye flour fermentation base, which you said your mother didn't use. Hmmmm. What region of Poland is your family from? My mother recommended a Polish brand base for zurek that is available dried in a packet, Winiari is the brand, Zurek Slaski is the product. I also have a bottle of "Barszcz Bialy" soup base in my pantry, the brand name is Frybex, and it's imported by Adamba Imports at 585 Meserole St, in Brooklyn, NY. Is it possible that your mother used a pre-bought starter? My mother had never heard of horseradish or sour cream being added as a flavor base in white borscht, but that could be a regional difference.

        Polish mushrooms, unfortunately are quite unique. I'm spoiled rotten in that I have the largest Polish community outside of Poland not very far from my house, and everything is readily available there. You're currently based in the Southwest? There used to be a thriving Polish community in Albuquerque, maybe there is a Polish grocer in that area that could mail order. If not, Steve's Meat Market in Brooklyn might be convinced to mail order to you. They would have the mushrooms, the white borscht base and the sausage to send, and they are nice nice people. Or you could try the Sikorski Market, not sure if they do mail order, but they are also so incredibly nice, I bet if you called them and told them your story they could help you. I can't find the numbers online, but I bet I have old grocery bags with the info somewhere in the house. W. Nassau Meat Market is also a good source. This is fairly comprehensive listing of some major Greenpoint businesses (no Sikorski, though)... http://www.brooklynandbeyond.com/sear...

        1. Yes, yes, yes, I have seen a recipe for this though not yet been brave enough to make it.

          http://www.soupsong.com/rbarscz.html

          1. My Grandmother came from the Lubin Area of Poland.

            My uncle made kielbasa as an annual Christmas gift to my father, and my Dad, Boleslaw, made Easter Borscht.

            This is my father recipe and approach:

            Holy Saturday:

            1 large soup pot [14+ quarts]
            8 quarts water

            Boil a dozen eggs [remove eggs and the kids colored eggs for Easter.]
            Add 3-5 lbs kielbasa to water and boil for 1 hour [remove kielbasa]
            Refrigerate Borscht stock

            Parents set-up Easter Hunt [mini-Christmas with colored eggs]

            Easter Morning:

            Christmas Borscht
            8 quarts of Borscht stock
            4 16oz cans of sliced beets in juice
            4 T Honey
            4 T Vinegar
            8 oz jar Horseradish with beets
            10 inches of kielbasa [sliced 1/8 inch thick]

            Simmer for an hour

            Go to Church

            Return from Church

            Easter Hunt [all eggs return to large bowl]

            Turn Christmas Borsht to Easter Borsht

            8 oz tub of sour cream
            2 T flour [+-] to thicken

            Build your bowl:
            1 slice rye bread with seeds [pull bread apart over bowl]
            1 hard boiled Easter egg [unshell your egg and slice egg over bowl]
            5 inches of kielbasa [slice sausage over bowl]

            Dad would bring the soup to the table and fill the bowls 3/4 full.

            I never truly realized it until I started this email, but there is a lot of Christian symbolism in my father's tradition.