There are as many recipes for Borsch as there are families in Eastern Europe. The country, region, religion, socioeconomic status and time of year determine how a family prepares their recipe.
There are red, green, and white
There are Lenten varieties, vegetarian varieties and many different ways to infuse the quintessential sour element to the soup.
The Origins of Borsch
Borsch, the iconic Russian soup with its signature fuchsia hue, actually originated in Ukraine. The humble peasant soup that made its way all the way up the socioeconomic ladder to the gilded tables of Tsar Alexander II. There is much folklore from all over eastern Europe of how the favorite soup came to be, one account drastically different from the next.
It’s important to note that the original Borsch recipes going back to the 16th century did not resemble the soup we eat today.
It is, however, generally agreed upon that contemporary Borsch, the pretty fuchsia one, originated somewhere in the area of Ukraine in the 18th century.
Making Borsch is a multi-step process that has carried over from the days of the PECHKA, a Russian stone mason oven of the 12th century that continues its use even today. Meat broth would be cooked first, and the vegetables were braised separately before adding to the soup so that everything would be perfectly tender at the same time. The addition of pre-cooked vegetables to the broth is called Zapravka, this unique method separates Borsch into its own category of soups. Whether or not the Borsch is an actual soup or a technique is an argument in and of itself.
Flavor and Quality
The most essential element of Red Winter Borsch ( the pretty fuchsia one)is the balance of sweet and sour.
Today Hogweed is no longer used in the preparation of Borsch, the sweetness instead comes from carrots, beets, and table sugar.
The sourness happens in a variety of way, this is up to the cook and will depend on heritage or personal preference. Kvass, Pickled Beets, Lemon Juice, Citric Acid, Vinegar and even sour cherries have all been used in the past to give Borsch its unique acidic flavor.
In my family, my Ukrainian grandmother uses sour cherries in her Borsch, while my Russian grandmother uses Lemon Juice.
Borsch is a very thick and hearty soup, the Russian measurement of quality is to stand a spoon straight up in the cup. If the spoon stands on its own, it’s quality Borsch. This soup can feed an army for a minimal cost and is a favorite of the Russian Navy.
Our Family Recipe
This recipe is my grandmother’s. It has been slightly adapted by my mother and then adapted somewhat by me and will most likely be adapted somewhat by my own daughter in a few more years.
PS. Little girls love the “Pink Soup.”
I did my college internship at the food network in Chelsea Market NY Manhattan. I once made this soup for them, and they ate the entire 3-gallon pot in one afternoon. People were coming up for second’s and thirds, and my heart swelled with pride for my family and my heritage.
The talk of the week was Anna’s Borsch and for many weeks after some of the crew would ask when I would be making it again. I was so happy that our humble Borsch brought them so much joy that I almost gave the recipe away to Food Network Kitchen to publish. I was encouraged not to by a mentor, and I’m happy I took his advice because I get to tell its story now, on my own blog.
I hope you enjoy this heirloom family recipe. I feel so happy and privileged to be welcomed into your home and to have the opportunity to share a part of my heritage with you and your family. If you would like to try, some other Ukrainian recipes check out my Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe.
The recipe yields 1 gallon and can feed up to 12 people for only $15.29 or $1.28 per serving.