It always happens this time of year. Spring fever. Due to our unseasonably warm weather here in New Hampshire, some of my bulbs have even started poking out. Of course, it is snowing as I write this. But, that’s life in New England. The tulips and daffodils will just have to wait.
Those of you in colder climates know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve been stuck in the house. Maybe with young children. Maybe by now you’ve taken up drinking, convincing yourself that a daily dose of
vodka wine is good for your health. Don’t kid yourself. It’s good for their health!
But besides the cabin fever, the flu, the dry skin and the dark, dreary days and the constant hum of the humidifier, for me comes the need for fresh vegetables. It’s not even so much fresh fruit as it is the thin, crisp spears of baby asparagus, spicy mesclun greens and sweet, deep crimson beets. Especially the beets.
Beets are an acquired taste. Many will describe them as tasting like “dirt”. I personally, find them sweet, earthy, delicious and nutritious.
For me, this soup also brings back many fond memories of my childhood. My mother’s family is from Poland. My great-grandparents (Babci-grandmother and Dziadzu-grandfather pronounced Jajoo) came from Poland, and we still have family there. I never had the opportunity to meet my great-grandfather, but I do remember my Babci. If I remember correctly, she was a bit of a spitfire. A photo of her flipping someone “the bird” from a hospital bed should sum up her personality pretty well.
Here’s a bit about my Polish heritage. Polish people are very religious. Mostly Roman Catholic. Typically they
not me would fast for Lent, eating no meat, eggs, butter, cheese or desserts. Needless to say, Easter was a big celebration because you could now eat all those foods again. The Polish custom called Swieconka (sh-ve-yen-sohn-ka) took place on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. Polish families would take a small portion of the food they would eat, place it all in a linen covered basket decorated with flowers and pussywillows to the church to be blessed by a priest.
What was in this basket you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.
Maslo (butter) often shaped like a lamb. Which, by the way, is eagerly decapitated by my husband each year. Sicko.
Babka (Easter bread) – A round loaf topped with a cross or a fish
Chrzan (horseradish with grated red beets)
Pisanki (eggs decorated with the symbols of Easter, of life, of prosperity)
Kielbasa (sausage) – A spicy sausage made of pork
Slonina (smoked bacon)
All these foods were symbolic in some way of the Easter holiday. Finally, a candle inserted in the basket to represent Christ, the Light of the World. The basket would be decorated with colorful ribbon and sometimes sprigs of greenery were attached. It would then be covered with linen and the priest would come to the house to bless it or it would be brought to the church along with the baskets of other families for blessing.
There are still a few, predominiately Polish parishes in my area that still have Holy Saturday blessings.
Every Easter my mother makes this soup. Every year I look forward to it. I finally got her tell me how to make it. I never realized how easy it was. I could easily make this often. But I won’t. It would make it less special. Kind of like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” now that I own it on DVD. You know what I mean?
Babci’s Beet Soup
1 bunch of beets, including greens
1 beef shank
3 T. Butter
2 qts beef broth (I used 2 32oz. boxes of Lower Sodium College Inn Beef Broth)
3 T. sugar
2 T. white vinegar
Salt & pepper taste
Heavy cream (a splash for each serving)
Clean, peel and julienne beets and chop stalks (discarding thetopof the beet only). Roughly chop greens to use later.
In a large pot, melt butter and brown the beef on both sides. Don’t worry if the butter gets dark.
Add beef stock, julienned beets and stalks (not greens yet) and alternately add vinegar and sugar. This soup has a fairly sweet, slightly sour taste. Taste after each addition. Simmer on low approximately 45 minutes.
Remove the beef and chop into small cubes. Discard the bone (or give it to the dog, he’ll thank you) and throw the beef back into the soup.
When beets are fork tender, add the greens and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in individual bowls. Add 1-2 T. heavy cream.
Wesołych Świąt (Happy Easter)