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White (Easter) Borscht

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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!


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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.


          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.

            1. I found this link accurate as I recreate my Dad's White Borscht. He gave me his recipe and I must note, it is very different from Zurek mentioned below. http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/...

              I think the key is that it always starts with sausage broth . .

              I boil fresh Easter sausage (garlic & marjoram pork sausage, we never used cured or smoked), add potatoes, sour cream, cornstarch, mushrooms, bay leaf, lemon juice. We eat it with Rye bread. .

              1. Couldn't you use Yellow beets instead of red?

                1. Hello,
                  I am not sure if you ever got to the bottom of this recipe but since my family also use to enjoy White Borscht at Easter when Grandma was alive, I thought I would share her version with you. I think she also started with a ham hock broth back in the day, but when this wasn't avaialble or maybe it was cheaper to use chicken broth, it turned into a super basic chicken broth made from chicken base. Then a few cups at a time were put into the blender with a carton of half n half and sour cream till it was smooth. You would bring it to a boil and add a tablespoon of white vinegar at a time till the taste was just right. Because chicken base is usually pretty salty no extra seasoning was added. Then we would serve smoked & fresh polish sausage and hard boiled eggs at the table and you would cut it up and add it to your bowl before eating. It was soo good this way because the sausage has such a strong flavor, that the fairly bland soup complimented it so well. Some relatives would add pepper or garlic salt, but i never thought it needed it. I am surprised how different each Polish family has different recipes for Borscht. I really thing recipes were manipulated and changed a lot during the drepression and the war depending on what was available, which is why i think there are so many versions of the same thing. My grandmothers family was pretty pour and lucky to leave poland before the War. So that could explain why her recipe is so basic. Either way it is incredibly delicious! Feel free to try it yourself or share with others.

                  1. I too have been trying to remember our Easter Borscht from my childhood. What i do remember is that it includes kielbasa, ham, rye bread, hard boiled eggs, and horseradish w/ beet juice. Years ago, I asked my mom how to make it, but I never wrote it down. I know that the broth was made from the boiled kielbasa water and some sort of cream was added as it was a white broth. She sent me sour salt because I could not find it anywhere and stressed that it was a very important ingredient - giving the broth a tangy flavor. Once the kielbasa was cooked, it was removed and whatever cream was used was added as was the sour salt. All of the above ingredients were put on the table and we cut or broke up each item, adding each to our bowl and then topped with the broth.

                    1. You probably will never see this since it's almost six years later since your post. My mom made the same kind of borscht that you were describing. She would simmer a half ham covered in water (ham should have the bone in it). Remove the ham from the water. To that she would add a pint of sour cream (of course this depends on how much stock you have). Keep tasting it until it you like the taste. Make a flour/water mixter and add to stock to slightly thicken. You don't want to thicken it much as you want it to still be thin soup. Add pepper to taste. Usually the ham made the stock salty enough, but if you prefer more salt, now is the time to add it. In your own bowl, add bite size pieces of ham, sliced kielbase, sliced hard boil egg and then pieces of light or dark rye bread. Ladle soup over the ham, kielbase, etc and then add horseradish to the soup in your bowl to taste. Some people like to use white horseradish and some like to use the red horseradish. Your choice. Yummmmmmm. I made it once and was surprised because it tasted just like my mom's even though there never was a recipe with measurements. Good luck, hope you found a way to make it.