Thursday, January 20, 2011

Beef Borscht

My Grandfather, Earl Epp, on my Mom's side was born Mennonite. He always said his father, Gerhardt, was kicked out of the church for smoking. It seems far more likely that my Grandfather shunned that life and rebelled against it for the rest of his life.

It always seemed though that it was tugging below the surface. He would speak of his Russian, Danish, German ancestry when it suited him. Turns out all may have been right.

He grew up speaking low German in America. He did not speak English until he was 9. At his funeral, his siblings, born in America, spoke to each other in low German. I would like to add that I am 6'5" and some of them were taller than me in their seventies.

My Gramma speaks of being the only Lutheran family in a Mennonite town. Her only friend there was Hulda. When I met her as a kid my Gramma confided that she felt uncomfortable saying "gee" in front of her (in her 60s) because as far as Hulda was concerned, it was swearing.

When I ran across a recipe for beef borscht in Saveur Cooks Authentic American, attributed  to Mennonites in Kansas, I thought, I bet I have been eating Mennonite food all my life in one form or another (we spent the summers with my Grandparents as kids). Here's my chance to taste a different recipe picked up in farming along the Volga River in Russia on their long road to escape religious persecution.

Beef Borscht

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound beef chuck cut into 1" pieces
2 yellow onions peeled and chopped
1 small green cabbage shredded
8 cups beef stock (I made my own, more on that another time)
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill (I left this out as I had none)
1 1/4 pounds red bliss potatoes peeled and diced (I used Russet Burbanks as that's what I had)
salt and pepper

Heat butter in soup pot over high heat.

Add beef and brown, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, add onions and cook, stirring often until onions begin to soften (or as I would say, begin to brown)

Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to wilt.

Add stock and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-low and return beef to pot.

Add tomatoes with juice and dill and cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add potatoes and cook until tender, about thirty minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.



  1. Do you think it'd work with chicken stock? I have lots of that, but I never have enough beef bones to make beef stock, which is called for much less frequently anyway.

  2. I never turn my nose up at a stock, it would just taste more chickeny. I made the beef stock by roasting marrow bones from the store with aromatic vegetables and three hours in the pot covered with water and with pepper corns, bay leaf and tomatoes added. Also the dog got a treat when I was done :)