Borscht has been claimed to have originated in many countries such as Poland, Lithuaniana, Russia, and other nations (Italy for one!). However, it is thought to have originated back in the fourteenth century in the Ukraine. As you can imagine, the ingredients and methods of preparation vary greatly according to the country, republic, city, or even the cook. However, the staple ingredient is always the luscious red beet that gives the dish its characteristic color and flavor. Even the name borscht derives from the old Slavonic brsh – meaning, of course, “beet”.
In the Ukraine, borscht has always been more than just a soup; it usually constituted the mainstay of a family’s whole diet. A proper borscht should include as many as twenty ingredients and should be thick enough for a spoon to stand up in it. Borscht was usually prepared in enormous quantities for the weeks ahead, and the borscht pot sat right in the middle of the dining table. Meat from the borscht was the most desirable ingredient and in times of shortages was strictly distributed according to age and rank.
The women who prepared the soup had to be skilled (in the Ukraine, a woman’s domestic qualities are judged by her borscht). We can buy borscht in the groceries but I find it is never like the REAL borscht. Most are just watery versions of beet juice!
A proper borscht should include pork or ham and other meats – the more meat, the better. Try making it with beef short ribs or pork ribs, adding some diced ham or smoked kielbasa at the end.
Also important for a good borscht, is to prepare the stock and vegetables correctly, strictly observing the proper order in which ingredients are added.
Like many of the Slavic soups, borscht should be served with sour cream, added separately but thoroughly mixed in by each diner. Borscht tastes better the next day, so make enough to enjoy the leftovers.