Borscht, or how they say in Ukraine Borshch (bor-sh-ch) is a pride of every Ukrainian, the jewel of the table, the splendor and variety of Ukrainian nature, the enjoyment of life. Every family has their favorite borscht recipes and every lady of the house can cook borscht, but not everybody is familiar with the history of this hearty dish. Ukrainian forefathers are known to cook “brews with herbs” – various vegetable concoctions with addition of roots and herbs.

Beetroot was one of the main components of these brews and in some geographical territories it’s been called “brsch”. Beetroots’ ability to stay fresh for long periods of time, sweet mellow flavor and most of all, bright ruby color of beetroot soups gave the name to a world renowned dish – “Borscht”. There are thousands of borscht recipes in Ukraine. The way of cooking differs from one region of Ukraine to another and that’s why different versions of borschts have the names of cities or regions, i.e. Kiev borscht, Kirovohrad borscht, Volyn borscht and so on.

The real borscht has to be very thick so the spoon stands in it by itself. Due to its thickness, Ukrainian women never pour borscht into bowls, but rather heap it or ladle it. “I am ladling the borscht!” yells the grandmother to all of her big family gathering around the table. “The thicker the better” – the husband praises the borscht his wife made and the whole family start working their spoons.

Not even the most experienced chefs can figure out all ingredients of the real borscht by simply smelling it. You bet! Sometimes you need more than all your fingers to name all of the borscht ingredients. For example, Ukrainian borscht with meat has 20 ingredients, Hetman borscht has 14 ingredients, Kiev borscht has 16 ingredients, Chernihiv borscht has 20 ingredients and so on…

If a borscht has specific taste or has been cooked using a secret recipe, it acquires the name of a person who made it – Valentina’s borscht, Baba Domaha’s borscht, Lida’s borscht, etc. Both regular and special borschts have their own specific flavors – like there is no two identical stars in the sky there is no two identical borschts.

To make a real borscht one has to remember dozens of small details and take into consideration tons of culinary peculiarities. Here’s one of the cooking details: the heat, and consequently, the intensity of boiling influence the speed of cooking and the quality of ingredients. Women in Ukraine distinguish 3 levels of water boiling: at first, the water starts to “string beads”, then it “strikes the spring” and starts to “boil over” at the end.

©Vyacheslav Revenko