For years I’ve been trying to replicate a specific ‘breed’ of borscht that I grew up eating in the rural town of Grand Forks, in British Columbia, Canada. No matter what I did it just didn’t seem to hit the nail on the head. There was always something missing: the texture is off, the flavour isn’t quite there, it’s just “friggin’ mehhhhh”. <— That’s truly the best way I can think to describe my last attempt at re-creating this legendary meal.
I even had a recipe from my Aunt that had apparently come from my Grandmother, but even this was an utter, and epic: FAIL. There are a million ways (obvious exaggeration) to make a pot of borscht, but this particular borscht is magical. And the ‘recipe’ is elusive. UNTIL THIS WEEK! Alas! I have a recipe in my hands! Or, rather, my iPhone’s Evernote list.
This particular pot of drool-worthy goodness isn’t your regular, run of the mill, beet soup. My Aunt’s passed-down recipe comes from my family’s Ukrainian ancestors, but this Ukrainian borscht is not the same as the one I’m searching for. You see, this borscht has been made by a particular group of Russians called Doukhobors. If you’ve never heard of this term: google it, or easier yet, click below… for a quick background.
In short-form, the difference between regular beet borscht and THIS one, is: FAT FAT FAT. You can never get enough butter and heavy cream. Ever! While searching for my past errors and planning yet another pot of soup, I just happened to stumble upon this blog/recipe…
I won’t be re-typing the recipe and method here, as the blog above instructs you on everything you need to know. I’ve also been informed by my friend Tom (from a Doukhobor family of course!) that I’ve STILL made a mistake in this round… I wasn’t supposed to stir the mixture while it was cooking down! I was supposed to leave it be! “Ancient Russian Baba secret”: this is what I’m told. There’s always time for round two, right?! That is, if I don’t suffer a heart attack from eating this week’s entire batch! As it turns out, the biggest difference from this Grand Forks/Doukhobor’s version, and the versions I’ve been making: it’s all in the mashed potatoes! Got it. You’ll get it too once you get a taste of it. Dairy, dairy, dairy, and dill, dill, dill. What better accompaniment to this bubbling bowl of awesome, than my homemade Rye and Pickle Juice Bread?
Nothing has compared to this meal I’ve just eaten, in a very long time.
Not only does this food taste delicious because it’s homemade by my own efforts and with my own passion injected, but because the flavour is unmatched and exact to what I ate as a kid. The first spoonful I ate literally transported me back to my hometown, with flashes of carefree kid-land, and lazy weekend days at the ‘GF Hotel’, or at a friend’s house while her Baba rustled around the kitchen making a mess, and feeding us kids plateful after plateful of butter drenched Russian fare. This exact flavour and texture, this exact bowl of soup, this exact moment- a crisp moment in time; a memory.
Hundreds of memories.
I find myself marvelling at the mind’s way of dredging up these old memories. A front-hall coat closet with mud-soaked boots lined up, a hundred year old barn turned into a family home; baseboards creaking, dusty drives down an old dirt road; off to Hummingbird bridge for a swim, sleeping on a trampoline; up all night watching the stars and taking the view (due to lack of city-light-pollution) for granted, a class trip to the Museum, crumbling old brick dwellings on a hillside, family dinners outside at my Great Uncle George Ritco’s farm; in the evening sunlight of late August, shucking fresh peas in the garage. I thought shucking those peas was such a god-forsaken chore at that age. I must have been 10 years old. All I wanted to do was listen to my cassette tapes or go to Amy’s house so we could pack peanut butter sandwiches in tinfoil, and go hiking up in the woods to get covered in dirt and muck, and poke at frogs with sticks. But shucking those peas is a memory, now, of equal importance to all the rest. All of those memories, though often tucked away in the back of my mind, are there. Some of these things I only remembered upon eating this soup, years later. Words can’t describe a flashback of this sort.
Even at age 21, off in University studying Culinary Arts- I was transporting jars of “Grand Forks Borscht” to my Chefs at school, 5 hours away. Even those guys, professionally trained Chefs, knew of my hometown and it’s soup. I assure you this is not bullshit.
This isn’t necessarily a post to encourage you to cook some borscht- but rather, one to encourage you to find your own Flashback-Meal.
What brings back childhood memories for you, strong enough to momentarily forget where you are, how old you really are, or the stresses of your day?
Food for thought.