04 April, 2010

Vintage Sunday: White Easter Borscht

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 Borscht
Makes about 1½ quarts

2 cups oatmeal
2½ cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp flour
1 chunk of rye bread

Ferment the mixture in a warm place.
I set the pot on top of my pellet stove.
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.

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.
For step-by-step photos, click here to go to my Flickr "White Easter Borscht" photo set.

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.



Tasty Trix said...

Interesting way to make borscht!

Jen Cheung said...

awesome site you goot here! thanks for your support! will drop by often whenever I can =) take cares

jen from www.passion4food.ca

Michele Hays said...

Nice - and looks tasty!

Due to our huge Polish/Eastern european community in the north and NW suburbs of Chicago where I live, you can get pre-made zur/zakwas in a jar, or the soup itself at local restaurants - I've never tried this, but I should.

lunaburning said...

So intriguing! I can't even begin to imagine what this soup must taste like, just from reading the recipe. Of course, that means that I'll have to make this right away.

Tony said...

himm not sure about that one dave, substatute chicken broth...lol did you see i left a comment on the five guys one. the wrong one.. for supersata let me know...Tony

Dave said...

Tony - I got back to you on the capicola page, check it out.

Michele - There's a litle Polish deli that sells zur by the container, but my wife says it doesn't taste like her grandmother's, so I keep making it myself. =)

lunaburning - It tastes kind of like a thin oatmeal gruel with a fermenty, sour taste. Not unpleasant, but definitely an acquired taste.

Anonymous said...

This was the way my Busia(grandmother) made borscht. I'm so glad I came across your site. Since she has passed we have made it once over the past 15 years. This year we are going to try again, this is exactly how she made it from scratch, no buying a pre made ingredient at a polish store. I remember the mason jar the garlic the fermentation for 5 days. In our family we grow horseradish very easily in my parents yard and dig out the root every year to have with polish sausage. We chop up farmers cheese, hardboiled eggs, polish sausage and rye bread to eat on top. I remember eating this since I was about eight years old and I'm now 38 and have a 2 and 3 year old and an Italian and Dutch Husband I would love to have taste this and restart the tradition. We usually have ooopwatkey(not sure how to spell it) prior to our christmas and easter a sharing of a blessed polish wafer. And we also decorate our easter eggs with hot wax and unique designs similiar to ukranian wooden eggs but these are real eggs. Nice blog brings back memories of growing up in a Polish family!!

Unknown said...

Almost exactly the same as our traditional recipe. We also incorporate vinegar and horseradish in the soup before serving. It creates more of a sour taste to compliment the sausage, eggs, and more horseradish. Delicious!

jujubean101 said...

How much is a chunk exactly?

Dave said...

If I have sliced rye bread on hand, I throw in a slice or two. If I have an unsliced loaf, I'll cut or break off about a two-inch end.