chlodnik (summer borscht)

I’ll get to it, just chill with me for a moment.

Reading over my last post, I appear to have begun mourning summer’s passing a wee bit early. Yes it’s winding down, but it’s doing so rather gently. Good, kind summer. To a girl who sat in an excessively air conditioned classroom for the better part of July, summer is leaving me cordially — with flowers and long conversations and plenty of “I’ll miss you’s.”

Take last weekend. Friday evening swirled with the currents of the day’s leftover warmth. Downtown, patios hummed with aestival gladness. Saturday morning the farmer’s market was awash with color, and my bags weighed heavy with local produce. My companion and I were each given a Crispin apple for our hike later that day, proving that you can get things free after all. I’d never tried this variety, and because my apple vocabulary pales in comparison even to the signs at Wegman’s, all I can say is that it was delicious. Not quite as good as my standby Macs, but sweet and crisp.  When I’m ready to trade berries and peaches for fall apples, this one might just be worthy of my basket.

Fresh garlic is also abundant enough to be found in braids, one of which we purchased from our “garlic guy.” Before he came into my life, I had no idea there were German and Italian varieties of garlic. I also didn’t know garlic aged, until I bought an old bulb weeks ago and the thing practically turned to sponge. But the garlic guy set us up, and our braid is promised to last us into the spring.

Let me tell you about these cloves. They are the most crisp and fragrant I’ve ever seen, so juicy they leave your fingers sticky from mincing.

We hiked all afternoon, and like Boy Scouts photographed mushrooms and delighted in the popping seeds of the Jewelweed plant. I also discovered that if I were a mushroom, I would definitely want to be the Jem-Studded Puffball. Apparently they’re edible, but we didn’t know that until later. Oh well, leave only footprints, take only pictures, right? I’ve spent far too much time in national parks…

But back to the market. Slung over my shoulder, I brought home escarole (a green in the chicory family), peaches, and farm-fresh eggs. But best of all were the beets. I know I’ve written about them before, but I wouldn’t be my grandmother’s granddaughter if I didn’t turn them into borscht now would I?

I scored the biggest, heaviest bunch on the table, and last night took it to battle. Ruby juice took over my kitchen, turning hands, knives, countertop and cutting boards into fuschia casualties. I chopped and sauteed, simmered and stirred for the better part of an hour.

I grew up eating my grandmother’s borscht. I’ve made it twice now, and though excellent, it will never, ever taste like hers. Maybe my Ukrainian blood is too diluted. We’d go over there for lunch and she’d disappear into what seemed to me a cellar, fully stocked with things in jars and tins of baking. It was just a basement, but it was full of treasures.

She always kept her soups in a hodge-podge collection of glass jars. It would slosh in her hands as she carried it upstairs to put to boil on the stove. The tang of her vinegar-spiked Old World borscht, sopped up with a puffball-soft hunk of her buttermilk buns is still unmatched in my world. It would shimmer with a little grease from the pork broth it was cooked in — something my fat abstaining generation fears too much. I am always pleased with my vegetarian version, but I sure could use one of those buns right about now.

Since converting from yogurt to making my own kefir (a fermented milk drink I will post about soon), I’ve been ravenous for ways to incorporate it into my cooking. I’ve also been craving soups lately (that darn impending Fall again), but with the persistent warmth of summer I thought I’d tackle the Chilled Soup. It never made sense to me up until now. It always seemed anticlimactic until I realized I could have it both ways.

First, over at A Cat in the Kitchen I found a chilled borscht called Chlodnik that is popular in Eastern Europe. With my interest thoroughly piqued (and so my love for how Europeans always say “beetroot”), I began to scheme about the beets and kefir sleeping away in my fridge. Then the Amateur Gourmet posted about a popular NYC hot spot where the soup is not and the people are — probably.

It didn’t take long for me to hit the stove and start bringing the bowls of cool upstate.

A few minutes of researching recipes later, I decided to just try adding kefir to some chilled grandma-borscht. And did it ever do me fine. I’ve included her recipe, lovingly transcribed by my mother, in their characteristic casual prose. It’s a wing-it kind of thing, so if you want ABC’s, try one of the above links.The great thing about this recipe is that it’s just as good hot as it is cold. I’m not sure other chilled borscht recipes would be as good as a hot soup, but this one is, as I discovered today, made for the transitioning world of summer to fall.

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