Table of contents       Previous VegeTale       Next VegeTale   

Three red beetroots

Beetroot drawing

I have made you a pot of borscht with these beetroots. It is based on a recipe that Katya, my grandmother, used that she learnt from Bella, her mother. It is not written anywhere but is part of family memory. Of course, the soup I make can't be as good as the soup made by previous generations. It gets slowly changed over time as ingredients are missed and others are added and cooking times are reduced from three days to hours. It seems that my generation is too busy to consider the effects of time and ageing.

I have simmered the beef to make a rich stock and base for the vegetables: onions, carrots, parsnip, turnips, potatoes and, of course, three fat beetroots. I baked the beetroots first in the oven to concentrate the flavour, then stripped their skins and chopped them into small cubes. Deep red cubes which colour the stock but leave the other vegetables unstained. Then cabbage, very finely shredded, and herbs; fresh dill and parsley from my garden with a little thyme. And salt and pepper.

My soup takes four hours to cook, including the time to make the stock. Not enough time for the flavours to slowly develop and then burst in a splash of red. Bella would be horrified that it hadn't been put to the back of the fire and left for days to slowly bubble and become a rich concoction. But there are so many other things to do now and it is not safe to leave my electric stove top on for three days. So I have to take short cuts and leave traditions as dreams.

I have shredded the beef and it floats with the vegetables. That is what Katya did. And then she added a spoon of sour cream. Can you swirl the thick white cream through the red soup, and then add chopped fresh dill? Can you see it and smell it? It is as nourishing and comforting as it was when I was a child, and it brings back memories of my Russian grandmother Katya.

Anne Atkinson

My recipe for borscht - for busy people in the 21st century

3 beetroots
1 large onion
1 large potato
1 parsnip
1 turnip
2 large carrots
2 or 3 stems of celery
Quarter of a small cabbage
1 tbsp butter
1 or 2 tbsp tomato paste
Juice of one lemon
1 litre of commercial beef stock
Dill - about a tablespoon of dried or
      a small bunch of chopped fresh dill
Few tablespoons of sour cream

(The amount of each ingredient can be altered depending on what is accessible, the cost and the availability of human energy.)

Slice the onion and celery, cube the beetroots, potato, parsnip, turnip and carrots, and shred the cabbage. In a large soup pot, melt the butter and add all the vegetables except the cabbage. Cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes then add the beef stock, lemon juice and water (depending on the amount of vegetables and size of the pot). Simmer for about 15 minutes and then add the cabbage.

Season with salt, pepper and dill, preferably fresh, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and a scattering of chopped fresh or dried dill.