ukraine: 46 posts

Ukrainian Borscht Poltava Style : My Family Borshch Recipe

You can spell it borscht, borshch, or borsch, but by any name, it’s the dish that embodies the essence of Ukrainian food culture–colorful, rich and vibrant. To call it soup wouldn’t be correct, because Ukrainian borscht is a dish more like minestrone, pot-au-feu or cocido in its heartiness. Every region of Ukraine has different varieties of borscht. There is no one authentic recipe, although there are classical versions. Borscht in Lviv in the west of Ukraine is ruby-red and includes small mushroom-filled dumplings; it’s an essential Christmas Eve dish. In the south of Ukraine, borscht is made with fish. The Central Ukrainian-style borscht–the most popular variation–is famous for its sweet-sour flavors. Borscht can be made with beef, pork, chicken, duck, beans, and even fish. It can be vegetarian. It can be soured with tomatoes, beet kvas, vinegar, sour cherries, rhubarb or red currants. It can be flavored with mushrooms or dried plums. It can include white beets and be pale in color. It can be spicy with paprika or suave with sour cream.

Outside of Eastern Europe, borscht tends to be associated with Russian cooking, since people tend to label everything from the former Soviet Union as Russian. Borscht in different variations is also enjoyed in Poland (barszcz), Lithuania (barščiai) and Romania (borş). Nevertheless, if you think of borscht as soup with beets, cabbage and tinted red with tomatoes, then it’s the Ukrainian version that you have in mind. According to the Russian food historian, Olga Syutkina, that version became popular in Russia at the end of the 18th century, when this dish was introduced on the tsarist army’s menu. Originally, borscht was the food of the peasants, because it was easy to cook in advance and was nutritious enough to be served as a one-dish meal. With the immigration of the Ashkenazi Jewish community to North America, borscht–the English spelling gives away its Yiddish roots–became popular in the New World.

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Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

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How a French Perfume Company Influenced Ukrainian Embroideries

One of the most quintessentially Ukrainian embroideries is called rushnyk (pl, rushnyky), richly decorated hand towels that accompany a person from birth to death. In two videos that I recorded, I would like to show you rushnyky embroidered by my great-great grandmother. I discovered them by accident when I was cleaning out our shed and spotted a large chest hidden under old rugs. The drawers were jammed, but I persevered and opened them only to discover decaying paper and mouse droppings. I rummaged in it–no, I’m not even one bit squeamish–and I found the embroideries. I cleaned and restored them and it’s a pleasure to share them with you.

My great-great grandmother Pasha wove the cloth on a hand-loom, and she then decorated it. These embroideries are at least 70 years old, and yet they are remarkably resilient.

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Asya’s Secret

Happy Nowruz! Happy Persian New Year! Happy Spring! Two days ago I recorded a short film for my Instagram stories about something I learned from my great-grandmother, Asya, but some of you asked me to put it into text format to be able to re-read it. Since Asya’s message is inspiring and uplifting, I thought that today would be ideal for sharing it here. You can watch the film in my Instagram highlights.

My great-grandmother Asya was born in 1915. She was a beautiful woman, with wavy dark hair, almond-shaped eyes and a Rubenesque figure. A rose-scented red lipstick was always in her purse as was a bottle of perfume. I don’t recall her using them, but she loved these items as she did her carved tortoise combs and lace collars. She was the most vivacious person I knew, always ready to crack a joke or make light of things. That trait of hers might have served her well, because being born in 1915, she lived through the dawn and dusk of the Soviet Union, with the Bolshevik Revolution, several famines and two wars in between.

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Lindens, Ukrainian Weaving, and Nataliya’s Other Favorite Things

I like meeting people who pursue their dreams. My friend and partner on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, Nataliya Cummings, studied theater in Ukraine, lived in an anarchist community, researched traditional weaving and created an art festival. She now lives in the UK, but she spends most of her year traveling in Ukraine and helping other people fall in love with this fascinating and yet unknown country. Today I want to introduce Nataliya to you.

Nataliya started her travel company Experience Ukraine shortly after moving to Hereford in the UK about 10 years ago, but the genesis of the idea came earlier. After completing her theater studies degree at the university, she started to create art events for children in collaboration with the Longo Maï community. Since children couldn’t travel to cities to see plays and performances, Nataliya decided to bring theater to them. Her experience was so exhilarating that she moved to the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche in the Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine. (It’s the same village where we will be staying during our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this summer.)

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  • Klaas in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: We grew rhubarb in our garden when I was a kid. We used to eat the stems, raw, dipped in sugar. It was a real experience, the extreme sourness of… April 14, 2021 at 5:11pm

  • Sarah in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Love the Hermes parfum. Bought it in Montreal. It is nice je of my favorite during the summer. Caramelized rhubarb pie is a delight. Unfortunately I am the only one… April 14, 2021 at 4:36pm

  • Silvermoon in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: When I visited relatives in Germany as a child, I remember being served rhubarb compotes or similar for dessert. Always liked it, but considered it oddly sour for a “dessert”.… April 14, 2021 at 3:28pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Ah, delicious! I cooked one batch of rhubarb with sugar, a bit of salt and vanilla as a compote. The second batch was blanched very shortly for a Persian-ish khoresh… April 14, 2021 at 11:51am

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