Eat like a Farmer: Borscht

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When my husband and I were in our late 20s, we lived in rural Northwestern Russia for two years.

In many ways the countryside could have mirrored that of Northern Michigan a hundred years ago.

Country people on foot carried tin milk cans on yokes across their shoulders, and hand-piled haystacks lay buried in snow at the edges of unfenced fields. No-tech root cellars dotted the countryside, and people carried kids and bundles of wood around on sleds.

Even apartment-dwellers kept piles of winter squash and potatoes in the cold spaces under their beds. Electricity was intermittent, and a certain kind of magic realism surrounded the village’s one unreliable telephone, which didn’t work when the sun shone too hard or the clouds were too thick overhead.

There, in the largest country in the world, in the early years of the 21st century, the closest faulty internet connection was a walk across the frozen river and a train ride away.

Borscht is a classic Eastern European soup, a staple of wintertime. Like so many treasured traditional recipes, there are as many variations of this soup as there are aunts and grandmothers and regions. This is just one way to make it, but it’s how Ana Vasilevna taught us, and that’s good enough for Aaron and me.

This version of borscht has a few ingredients that we really treasure this time of year—beets, high in the pigment betaline, which gives them their striking red color.

Betaline also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that are beneficial to your health. Added in at the end of the cooking time, when the soup has cooled down from a simmer and is ready to serve, naturally cultured sauerkraut is raw, nutritionally dense, and full of probiotics that help digestion and improve absorption of nutrients.

If you’ve ever tried lacto-fermented vegetables, you know they’re different from the one-note sourness of the grayish vinegar-pickled sauerkraut you can find on top of a ballpark hot dog. You can find naturally cultured sauerkraut at local health food stores.

If you like recipes like this, you can pick up our new Eat Like a Farmer cookbook at both Grain Train stores, Boyne Country Provisions, and at our booth at the winter Boyne City Farmers Market. All proceeds benefit Blue Plate Project, a food outreach nonprofit.


8 – 10 cups chicken stock
2 cups chopped onion
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart of crushed tomatoes
5 cups chopped beets
3 cups sauerkraut
½ cup fresh dill

Heat a soup pot or Dutch oven over a medium flame and add the oil and onions. Sauté them over medium heat until the color deepens and the onions begin to stick to the pan. Add garlic and sauté a moment more. Add the stock and tomatoes to the pot, and as the soup warms, chop and add the beets to the pot. Once the beets are just tender, add the dill and sauerkraut and warm to serving temperature. Add a scoop of plain yogurt and extra dill for garnish.

Find this essay in the Petoskey News-Review here.