Today's Vintage Sunday post doesn't feature a kitchen gadget, advertisement, or commercial product. Instead, I'm highlighting a traditional Polish holiday soup that I've been making annually at Easter for my wife for over 25 years: White Easter borscht, or barszcz biały.
On the first Easter after Maryanne and I met, we were invited to Easter breakfast "with the Aunts" - her grandaunts Katherine (Auntie Pat,) Bertha (Auntie B,) and Nellie (Auntie Nellie - no nickname, imagine that!) There was rye bread and babka (a kind of Polish sweet bread), piergoi, decorated hard-boiled eggs, kielbasa, mushrooms, horseradish...and white borscht. The borscht was the centerpiece of the meal. Everyone cut up some kielbasa into a wide, shallow soup plate and added broken-up hard-boiled egg and rye bread, then seasoned it with horseradish and dug in. Maryanne and the Aunts loved it. I gamely choked down a bowl and apparently passed some kind of acid test for family acceptance; from then on, Maryanne's aunts were my aunts too and Auntie Pat, especially, thought of me as a nephew rather than a nephew-in-law. Sometime later, Auntie Pat gave me her mother's recipe for white borscht, and told me it was my turn to make it next time. It's been "my turn" ever since.
Like many other ethnic holiday foods, there are almost as many variations of white borscht as there are families who prepare it, but the basic flavoring - fermented rye - seems to be constant. The recipe passed down to Maryanne and I uses oatmeal and rye with a touch of white flour, mixed with water and allowed to ferment for 3 to 5 days. Let me tell you, the finished soup is an acquired taste, and even though I try it again every year, I still - after more than 25 years - don't like it. Nevertheless, I make a batch which Maryanne enjoys, I tolerate for the sake of tradition and Auntie Pat's memory, and the rest of the family holds their noses and gags at.
White Easter BorschtFor step-by-step photos, click here to go to my Flickr "White Easter Borscht" photo set.
Makes about 1½ quarts
2 cups oatmeal
2½ cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp flour
1 chunk of rye bread
Put all four ingredients in a beanpot or earthenware crock, and stir with a fork until everything is combined. Let stand for three to five days, until it sours.
Ferment the mixture in a warm place.
I set the pot on top of my pellet stove.
When ready to make the soup (Easter morning,) cook your morning kielbasa in water and reserve the water when the kielbasa is done. Measure out 1½ quarts of the kielbasa broth into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the oatmeal mixture and cook until the soup thickens. Strain the thickened broth into a soup tureen or pot and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Serve with the cooked kielbasa, cooked mushrooms, hard boiled eggs, rye bread, and horseradish. Each diner should cut up some kielbasa into their soup dish, followed by some egg, mushrooms, and rye bread, then top with a ladle or two of broth and horseradish to taste.
Maryanne's family had another Easter tradition, which is so much fun that my family has adopted it, too. As everyone comes in the door for Easter breakfast, they take a colored egg and clack it against someone else's egg, wishing "Happy Easter!" If your eggshelll cracks, you're out of the game. This egg-cracking goes on until only one person remains. There's no prize involved but the bragging rights to having the most hardcore egg-smashing skillz, but it's entertaining and we always have a good time.
We had a particularly good time one year, when I colored a "special" egg for my sister Lori. It was raw; needless to say, she was "eliminated" in the first round of competition and I had a hell of a mess to clean up (a job made all the more difficult by hardly being able to stop laughing.) That was like, eight years ago, and Lori still doesn't quite trust me at Easter - she always spins her egg to make sure it's hard boiled before she goes for the impact.