Monday, November 8, 2010

Borsch, Borshch, Borscht- Beet Soup

I made beet soup today, the kind that is often made throughout Russia and Poland. I looked at four different recipes and combined them to make up my own concoction.
Of course, all of the recipes call for beets. Some of them shred the beets, some boil, some hold off adding them until the very end to get the brightest color in the soup.
Another decision is whether to serve the soup hot or cold. I suppose it w

ould be better to puree the soup were you to serve it cold, but I took the more peasant-like approach and match-sticked the vegetables and served it warm. I also added meat, like some of the recipes call for, and sipping cold meat stew is not my favorite.
For the most part, the ingredients were from the farm. I went to the local co-op for crimini mushrooms and a leek. We didn’t plant leeks this year, because I had planned to plant the pencil-thin ones that I had stored in the root cellar over winter. Of course, farming got in the way, and the leeks rotted before I had a chance to plant them in the ground. So when I found that the co-op was out of leeks, I just went to the source, to Luna Bleu Farm, right down the road and dug two out of the ground.
Kyle brushed hogged the gardens today, getting ready for the first official “wintery mix” forecast of 2010. Bradford got three new chickens- black cochin bantams, and I helped the local trapper scope out the best place to set traps to capture the marauding coyotes that have taken a liking to our sheep. They’ve killed two and injured two.
First, it killed a lamb, and Drew and I set about scouting the area every day twice a day. Nothing for a week, and then, at three in the morning, I heard the frenzied calls that they utter after making a kill, when they call in the subordinate members of the pack for dinner.
That morning, the neighbor called and said that another sheep had been killed, bringing the total to two. One of the parents that she babysits for had seen it dead in the field as he drove to her house to drop off his child.
At the same time, Bradford came up from the barn and told us that there was a sheep in the chicken house. I struggled to figure out how this could be possible, since the flock was about a quarter of a mile away from the barn. Where was the rest of the flock?
Sure enough, when I went to check, there was a black yearling lamb in the barn, all by herself. She was limping a bit, and looked frantic. So I set out for the field where the rest of the flock was supposed to be. I carried the .22 rifle with me, but I didn’t really expect to get a shot at the coyote.
In the field, the sheep were scattered, and there was the body of number 46 green. It was the mother of the lamb in the barn. All the other sheep in the field side-stepped the gruesome, half eaten carcass, and were looking at me, I think reproachfully.
I gathered the horse up (who stays in the field to protect them, but has become quite deaf and a little blind in one eye), and led them back to the home pasture. One of the yearling lambs was badly injured, and the entire flock was so subdued, that when Kyle opened the gate, they willingly walked in without protest. The injured lamb stayed behind, dripping blood from her hind leg.
It’s a lamb that has become tame for no apparent reason. She has three freckles under each eye, and when I go out into the fields, she approaches me. She’s not a bottle lamb (one that I have raised by feeding it myself from a bottle), or one that an apprentice has taken a shining to and has been cuddled - just a ewe lamb that decided to be friendly. Good thing, because, had she been wild, I don’t think I could have helped her.
Instead, we gathered her up and brought her in the barn. I laid her on her side, and saw how badly she had been injured. A major artery was spewing blood so fast that it was not even pulsing - just a steady beet-red stream of blood.
While I fetched packing and tape to try and stop the blood, the ewe lay still, not flinching. I used old pillow cases that we use to store root vegetables in and duct tape to make a rough tourniquet. Then I gave her a dose of antibiotics that I have for emergencies and put her in with the llama.
When the trapper came, he looked at where the kills had occurred, and he chose two sites to set bait. He looked like an artist, a skilled painter of a canvas set for a battle scene. He set the traps and told me when to come and check them.
And I will, tomorrow, after this warm night of beet soup and pirozhki.

1 lb ground lamb
4 quarts chicken broth
1 ½ pound beets, cooked (boil until skins slip, then dice finely)
2 cups sauerkraut
1 ½ cups carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 parsnip (about 1 cup) cut into matchsticks
1 cup chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped leek
1 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup cubed potatoes
1 cup canned, stewed tomatoes
1 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon dill
sour cream

Bring the broth and meat to boil, then skim and set to simmer for 20 minutes. Add all of the vegetables except the tomatoes and mushrooms and simmer for another 25 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, vinegar, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and allspice. Cook another 15 minutes. Check the seasoning, and add lemon juice if needed. Garnish with dill and sour cream in the bowls.

-Adapted from the following cookbooks: Bon Appetit Country Cooking (Viking Press 1978), Local Flavors, Deborah Madison (Broadway Books 2002), Great Dishes of the World, Robert Carrier (Random House 1964), The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2007).