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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anne's Grandmother's Russian Borscht

 My family borscht recipe ran in the Boston Globe today: handy, since this lets me reprint both the story and recipe here for you. 
One Cook's Best Dish

Adding to the family tradition

Her borscht is her own take on grandmother’s

“I’ve fiddled around with it,’’ says Anne Milton of her recipe for borscht, which she prepares about once a month in season. “As a teen, I went to visit my grandmother in St. Louis. I wanted to learn her recipes — she had the key.’’ “I’ve fiddled around with it,’’ says Anne Milton of her recipe for borscht, which she prepares about once a month in season. “As a teen, I went to visit my grandmother in St. Louis. I wanted to learn her recipes — she had the key.’’ (Michele Mcdonald for The Boston Globe)
By Jane Dornbusch Globe Correspondent / February 23, 2011

CAMBRIDGE — Anne Milton’s borscht traveled a circuitous route to her cozy kitchen: it began in the present-day Ukrainian city of Odessa, went to Sedalia, Mo., then St. Louis, and, finally, to Cambridge. Along the way, it changed a bit, but it remains essentially the meaty, sweet-and-sour, beet-and-cabbage soup that warmed many a Russian winter.
“I’ve fiddled around with it,’’ admits Milton, preparing a batch of borscht on a gleaming 1950s Caloric stove that’s been in place since her great-aunt installed it in this 1892 Victorian. Milton uses agave nectar in place of sugar, and adds chopped fresh dill just before serving — touches her paternal grandmother, a Russian Jew whose family lived in Odessa and emigrated to Missouri in the early 1900s, wouldn’t have recognized.
Then again, borscht itself was unrecognizable to Milton’s mother before she got married. Her mother was a Yankee WASP who “grew up in New England with a family that ate to live and didn’t really care about food,’’ says her daughter. “When she married into my father’s family, a family that cared passionately about food, she wanted to learn to cook, and my father’s mother taught her.’’
While her mother became a proficient cook, she was never creative in the kitchen. “She made this exactly the way my grandmother did,’’ says Milton, eyeing her copy of the borscht recipe, written in her mother’s hand. “I don’t think she changed a thing.’’
But Milton’s father liked to cook, and he encouraged culinary experiments when she was a child. As her interest grew, she became eager to learn her grandmother’s cooking secrets. “As a teen, I went to visit my grandmother in St. Louis,’’ she recalls as she brings a pot of beef stock to a simmer. “I wanted to learn her recipes — she had the key.’’ And so the culinary legacy was handed down. Now, Milton, who is 56 and has worked as a caterer, graphic designer, and jewelry designer, passes along her own food knowledge in a distinctly modern fashion. Last year, she and Colin Killick, the college-student son of an old friend, launched a food blog called “Everything Tasty.’’
Milton prepares the borscht, which gets sweetness from prunes and chopped apples, about once a month in season. “As a child, I didn’t like the prunes,’’ she recalls. “The deal was that I would eat one per bowl.’’ Even if you’re not a prune fan, don’t omit them; they help with the soup’s characteristic sweet-sour balance and add a depth of flavor that won’t come from sugar or agave alone.
Another key to success is to skim the fat off the liquid, which is easy after chilling. The original recipe called for beef chuck or short ribs; Milton favors the latter for their richness and deep flavor.
The beef stock is then reheated and used to simmer beets, cabbage, apples, prunes, and other ingredients. It’s a time-consuming process, but not a complicated one. Before adding them to the soup, Milton roasts the beets, rather than boiling them, which concentrates their flavor. And they’re grated because the texture is more delicate.
With the practiced palate of an experienced borscht-maker, Milton tastes the soup as it simmers, waiting until it reaches a certain stage of richness and flavor before pronouncing it done. She serves it up in wide bowls, topping each with a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped dill, and accompanies the soup with dense, hearty bread and sweet butter. It’s a piece of Russia that’s at home anywhere it’s winter.

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  1. Bravo! I loved the article and the borscht recipe too!

  2. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Question: Does Ken eat the borscht, too?

    Your brother-in-law

  4. Absolutely! I would go so far as to say he's a borscht fan.


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