As winter continues, I’ve been thinking about the borscht my mother used to make for us when I was a little girl. You’d come home on a day so cold that you could see your breath in front of you, and you’d walk in to the smell of garlic and warmth. The next thing you remember you were at the kitchen table, with a steaming hot bowl of borscht seeming to breathe back at you, this time with a message of sit and eat.
I loved watching mom make the borscht. This wasn’t the cold borscht you see in grocery stores in glass bottles, or sometimes order (mistakenly for me) at Polish restaurants. Oh no. This was a rich, savory hot meat and garlic borscht, “knubbel” borscht my mom called it. (Knubbel is yiddish for garlic.) Something she learned to make from her own mother, back in Poland, before things got bad.
I used to stand by the table as she ritualistically gathered the ingredients, each one eventually making it into the big white enamel pot she used for soups. There were fresh beets, garlic cloves, fatty meat of some kind on a bone, onions, sour salt, a little sugar, and perhaps a bay leaf or some dill. I don’t remember if there were actually other ingredients (I wish I did), but I do know most of the flavor came from the beets, beef fat, and garlic – lots and lots of garlic!
All ingredients safely in the pot, this wondorus red mixture simmered slowly for hours (or so it seemed), filling the house with a delicious aroma that made me feel everything was ok, no matter what else was happening in the world. And then, just when I thought I might burst with anticipation, it was time. The borscht was ready. And so we gathered at the table, spoons poised for action, as the dark red beet soup was carefully ladled into a white soup dish that held pieces of perfectly boiled potato, just waiting to absorb all the juicy color and goodness.
My favorite moment was creating that first spoonful of the borscht, with just the right amount of potato to make for a perfect mouthful. And the meat, which had cooked so long and absorbed all the flavors, almost fell off the bone.
Funny how strong food memories are. I can almost taste it now. Although this was many years ago and mom is long gone, the memory still warms me to this day.