I also like borscht because it was a favourite of our Grandad's, who ate it as a child. Grandad was always endearingly vague on the details of his childhood memories, and claimed not to remember anything from his youth. Sadly he died the same year as Israel Grandpa, just managing through sheer force of will to hang on to hold his first great-grandchild - the Munchkin. However, the borscht had somehow stuck in his memory, and I think it was a dish one of his grandmothers used to make. His family had emigrated from Russia at the start of the last century, and he grew up living with both his grandmothers, who, amazingly, didn't speak to each other. None of that is related to the Russian-ness, but their origins do explain the borscht. Grandad and Granny T used to make it in summer and we had it with them quite often. Their house, where Granny T still lives, is near Brighton and The Scientist and I spent a lot of time with them while we lived in Lewes. Having lived hundreds of miles away through most of our childhood it was lovely to be able to get to know them better, especially since Grandad got ill soon after we moved to the south coast. We spent all the Christmases of our childhood with them, and they had one of those amazing houses which could always stretch to fit two or three more children in, produce just a bit more food, and always contained an adult who was willing to play board games with you (actually that was always Granny T who has the endurance of a coppit-playing saint). I never realised how much of an exercise in planning Christmas dinner was until very recently, as a huge feast would just roll seemingly effortlessly out of their kitchen. Those memories are all of roast parsnips, meringues and fruit cake, but now borscht has joined the list of foods that will always make me think of them.
I looked out for beetroot at the farmer's market this week with this soup particularly in mind, but was especially gratified to find some in such an unusual shape!
I'm sure there are many many slight variations on the recipe, but I like to use the one from Entertaining with Cranks because it's the same book Grandad and Granny T used. It suggests that you add sour cream to the chilled soup, but I just put a pot of yogurt on the table for people to add as they like. Without the sour cream it makes more like five helpings than six, (four when you're catering for The Scientist) but that's as a main course with bread rather than as starters. Actually I find I don't care for bread so much with it when it's chilled, but some crunchy croutons might be nice. It's a very easy one to make, but of course everything you touch once you've started will get dyed purple.
Iced borscht (from Entertaining with Cranks)
2 tsp oil
1 chopped, medium sized onion
450g grated raw beetroot [I don't grate or chop by hand any of the vegetables but spin them in chunks in the food processor instead - much easier and less purple]
1 diced small carrot
1 diced small potato
900ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
generous pinch ground bayleaf [I just put a whole leaf in, which I have just realised to my embarrassment that I forgot to take out and must have pureed! I'm glad The Scientist doesn't read the recipe part of my posts]
generous pinch ground cloves
1/2 pint soured cream or Greek yogurt [I serve this separately]
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped chives to garnish
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion and beetroot, stirring occasionally, for 5 mins. Add the carrot and potato, stock, vinegar, tomato puree and spices. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 1 hour until the beetroot is tender. Allow to cool and then puree. Chill. Stir in about three quarters of the soured cream and adjust seasoning to taste. To serve ladle the borscht into individual bowls and garnish with a spoonful of soured cream and sprinkle with chopped chives.