Friday, April 4, 2008

A Post Just for D

For a while now D has been asking me, okay bugging me as to why I haven't written about borscht, and yes, even about P'tcha. Being willing to do anything to escape cleaning out yet one more cabinet, this post is for you D.

There are any number of dishes that my mother cooked when I was young and which she doesn't make any more. A few of those dishes are only vague memories--a few I am glad are only vague memories. Where did those dishes come from, the ones like P'tcha and g'linglach and yes, even borscht?

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the days before refrigeration and a butcher shop on every other corner, meat was not necessarily an everyday staple of eating life. Meat was darned expensive, beef meat in particular. Shochtim and kosher butchers did not have the luxury, which they do today, of selling the non-kosher or difficult to determine if kosher parts of a cow to a non-kosher meat processor. Because cows were expensive and because they did not shecht very many of them, shochtim took the time to 'treiber" the veins that are questionable. Rabbanim were shall we call it "more lenient" about what parts of beef and chickens could be routinely used.

Example: chicken feet, the "fisalech," were used to make chicken soup with and then were served to be eaten. If you were lucky they were de-clawed. It was also why gerglach and pipiklach were used to make soup with--it wasn't that they tasted so incredible but that they were relatively cheap when "real" chicken meat was expensive. And it was also waste not, want not. The butcher sold the "real" chicken meat to those with money, and those without got the "peripherals," if they were really lucky. Plenty of those with money who used all the parts as well.

Another example: cow bones. The bones were used in cooking because they lent an intense beefy flavor to dishes without having to actually use beef. The marrow from the inside of the bones was considered a delicacy and getting some of this "marach" to be spread on challah was the equivalent of having died and gone to heaven. Those who could afford beef also used the bones, but those who couldn't afford beef were thankful for the bones and their beefy ta'am, again if they could afford even this part of the cow. I use only marach bones in my cholent. Yes, I know all about the cholesterol in marrow--this is cholent we are talking about!

P'tcha is otherwise known as calves-foot jelly. It was and is made using the hoofs and lower leg bones of a cow, although sometimes chicken bones are also used. The bones are cooked in a quantity of water, along with spices and carrots, and then the resultant broth is carefully strained and put into the refrigerator to jell. Even without refrigeration but only a root cellar, if the ratio of water to bones was okay, the broth jelled. A meichal sort of. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground: either you love this dish or you hate it. While my mom and dad loved this dish, we kids were less than enthusiastic and so it disappeared from our house to be replaced with "real" meat. The dish is surprisingly high in protein and low in cholesterol, if made properly.

G'linglach was made using cow's or lamb's lungs--I told you they used most every part of an animal. I was a very little girl the last time my mom made this, but I truly hated it. But when I mentioned it just now to my mom she waxed nostalgic and sighed that the lungs aren't used any more--she loved it.

And then there are sweetbreads. Oh do I love 'em. But as no one else in my family will go anywhere near them I have to wait for a wedding smorgasbord where the baal simcha has ordered them. Mostly they don't. Sigh. Of course, being that they are made from the thymus or pancreas, usually of a calf or lamb, some people run the other direction. And they are not exactly a health powerhouse either.

While caterers still sell it, chopped liver is one of those items that is not as popular as it once was. Once upon a time chopped liver or braised liver in onions was a "rich" forspeis or appetizer. After all, an animal only had one liver. To make this dish for a group required a whole lot of money. They are also a real pain to kasher. And you don't really want to know how much cholesterol there is in liver.

Now to borscht. Russian in origin, borscht comes in two varieties: sweet and sour. The sour is the more common of the two. While we think of borscht as only being beet-based, hence the pinky-red color, there is a variation called "shav" which is made from sorrel and is green. Some borschts are fleishig, some pareve and some milchig, depending on cooking method. The fleishig borschts, the ones actually cooked with meat and beets and all the other vegetables, are eaten as is. Think of them as pink chicken soups. The pareve borschts were made with beets and other root vegetables, plenty of onion and garlic, and then were "inter-ge'shloggen" with beaten eggs. (Note: making it this way today is asking for trouble. The soup has to be cool enough when you incorporate the egg mixture not to cook the eggs in pieces, leaving you open for possible salmonella poisoning.) The milchig borschts were made the same as the pareve borschts but were inter-ge'shloggen with a combination of eggs and sour cream. Sometimes they were not inter-ge'shloggen but instead had a dish of sour cream served as an accompaniment to the soup. One key ingredient in the sour borschts was vinegar. Not only did it add some "snap" to the flavor, but the vinegar served as a preservative for the soup. The pareve soup base could be stored in barrels in a root cellar and would not spoil even though not refrigerated. The sweet borschts, to which sugar had been added instead of vinegar, would not keep for storage.

Many other things that we eat without thinking about came about because of the lack of refrigeration or the desire to waste no part of anything. Pickles were a way to keep cucumbers when long storage was wanted. Sauerkraut preserved cabbage for long periods of time. Corning meat by using a salt coating and smoking resulted in our cold cuts, but was originally done because corned meats could be kept in storage longer then fresh meat without spoiling. It's ironic that today corned beef and most cold cuts are expensive delicacies.

The dishes I mentioned in this posting are still, some of them, enjoyed by Jews. Some of them have moved into the realm of history: perhaps interesting to know about but oh are we glad we don't have to eat them. Like everything else, what we eat may change over time. Some dishes we serve, even if we don't particularly care for them, because they are a link to an age gone by. they are our preserved history, both literally and figuratively.

B'tai'avon D.


Anonymous said...

Are you sure P'tcha or Cholodetz as they called it in Russia doesn't have Cholestrol. I really love it, but make it once every 5 years or so because of cholesterol. Also, we used a bit of chopped meat on the bottom.

Borcht is made with meat and served with sour cream. All other combinations were created by Jews for Kosher reasons. And I never heard of eggs in Borcht. You must be from a different region.

ProfK said...

According to the research I did, P'tchah, if strained through thick layers of cloth, is low in cholesterol because no fat gets through with the liquid. If you add in chopped meat on the bottom then you are adding in cholesterol with the chopped meat.

Russian borscht may require meat and sour cream on the side, but when the dish migrated into Eastern Europe--and there are some cooking historians who question whether it originated in Russia or not--it took on the sweet versus sour flavors. Of course the Jews "fixed" the recipes so they could eat them.

I asked my mom about why the eggs beaten in. Her answer seems to make sense. When you made it milchig the sour cream beaten in thickened the soup and lightened its color. That was not an option for fleishigs, so the eggs alone were used as a thickening agent and to lighten the color. The eggs and/or eggs and sour cream were added only before serving, not when storing the soups.

I'm from the Transylvan, on the Hungarian/Romanian side of the Carpathians. Each region adapted and changed and added ingredients as they borrowed dishes from elsewhere. Some of it had to do with differing local produce available, some of it with different spices that were traditional. I include a lot of peppers in my cooking, both dried and fresh, because that is traditionally Hungarian. The first time someone served me a Paprikash which was made with meat and potatoes without peppers or paprika I didn't know what to say. The word Paprikash is Hungarian and means made with peppers. I also use a lot of eggplant which is traditionally Romanian, as well as using corn meal, also big in Romania. Heaven is a mamaliga cu brinza. Yet the pastries in my family owe a lot to the Austro-Hungarian influence. We Jews are a real amalgam of the many places we came and come from.

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm, lung. When my mother makes it, my father and I come running. Eat it freshly cooked as once it is refridgerated, it is not the same. It is also fun to seen it deflate when openning the roasting pan.

I'm not too keen on p'thca, but I eat because my mother made it. Everyone from the older generation raves about it.

My mother's and bubbie's broscht is fermented for a week or so and then strained.

Chicken feet are my mother's favorite part of the chicken. Guests are often surprized to see chicken feet on my mother's plate.

I don't think I would have the patience to spread marach onto bread. I just suck it straight out of the bone and suck on the bone for added pleasure.

There was one thing left out of the list. I don't know what they are called, but they are the eggs in the chicken when it is shechted. They are amazing in chicken soup with homemade lockshin.

Leora said...

Delicious. My mother, z"l, who was from Russia, used to make borscht with meat. I think she made schav once, too.

Note: if you want to feel better about eating all that meat, read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The really evil stuff in our diets is not animal fat but vegetable oils, not just the hydrogenated kind, and sugars, too.

Anonymous said...

I was overwhelmed by this great honor and have been trying to gather my thoughts. It's hard for some people to take the spotlight...

Thanks for the interesting post, but I think a different title would do it more justice.

How about "Borscht, P'tcha and Chopped liver", "Borscht 101 by Professor K", or "Endangered traditional foods" ? We could have a contest. Readers could submit alternate names for this important post. I am willing to forego the honor of having the post adorned with my letter.

Anyway, we can put together a list of endangered Jewish foods, a good start is right here. I don't see chopped liver as endangered though.

Borscht is not as endangered as P'tcha, but I suspect it has suffered a steep decline in consumption nevertheless.

I think there is also a borscht variation with hard-boiled egg in it, by the way.

What bothers me is when some of the younger generation turn up their noses at stuff like borscht without even knowing what they are.

Hey, if pomegranate juice has become popular, why not borscht ? I would guess that it's more healthy than alot of other stuff being consumed today. Maybe we need a 'get borscht' ad campaign with celebrities photographed with red mustaches ? Rabbis, Rosh Yeshivas, Chassidishe Rebbes, professors and others.....

ProfK said...

Now D, no blushing modesty. It's a Jewish principle that one gives credit to the originator of a thought. You're stuck with the title.

I did forget one item, which my husband reminded me of. Fruit soups. These, too, were traditional when the weather got hot. Some were mixes of various fuits, others were "straight" varieties. My aunt made an incredible Kirchen soup--cherry soup. My mother preferred the mixed fruit soups, served with egg-white meringues on top. Again, these soups were intergeshloggen with eggs instead of with cream so they could be served with fleishigs or pareve meals. I haven't made these fruit soups in years, neither has my mom, because of the egg problem, but oh do I remember the taste.

Maybe the problem with borscht is the name. It somehow has gotten into people's minds as old fashioned, and made of beets at that. Perhaps if we gave it a name with more cachet today it would become popular again. Might work with the other dishes as well. And if manufacturers charged triple for the products they would probably fly off the shelf, because everyone knows that more expensive must mean better.

Anonymous said...

I hated those eggs from the killed chicken.

ProfK - In P'tcha when the liquid cools all the fat floats on top and congeals. So if you scrape of that fat, wouldn't it be same as strained? I mean as far as cholestorol is concerned.

My grandpa was from Bessorabia, my grandmother was from 70 km away in Odessa oblast. On my mom's side both grandparents came from Vinitza oblast. I really do not like Rumanian/Bessorabian food, with the exception of fried peppers and momoliga. I prefer foods from my mom's side of the family and incidentaly my husband's.

Anonymous said...

I make Borcht myself, the Ukrainian one. I make it parve and we eat it with soy sourcream (mixed in our bowls) because it is cooked in fleishig pot. It is also must be eaten with lots of fresh garlic and black bread.

Fruit soups(kampots) I really hate. They were cooked in the old days from either fresh fruits which were already spoiling (or wormy), or from canned fruits mixed with dried fruits which were cooked in season. The reason for this, is that in the old days fruits were only available in season (besides apples and dried fruits), because aside for the kampots the other drinks available were water, tea and milk. They were served as a desert plain, in a cup.

ProfK said...

I still make compote, especially for Pesach. It is stewed fruits and raisins and made thick with relatively little liquid left after cooking. Mine uses both dried and fresh fruits. It is either a side dish or served with cake as dessert. It differs from the fruit soups which were soupy, lots of liquid, and served at the start of a meal.

Just a note: I asked my mom and she also had cocoa and coffee for drinking and also seltzers mixed with fruit syrups or wine.

Anonymous said...

That's why I wrote Kompot with a K, because the Russian variety is very liquidy with a few fruits on the bottom of the cup.

My Ukrainian babysitter claimed that the only liquid people had during a meal was liquid that came from the soup and kompote.

Cocoa and coffee were luxiries, and seltzer for some reason is only like by Jews.

Commenter Abbi said...

One of the nice things about Israeli supermarkets is that nearly every one sells turkey necks and many sell chicken bones. If find chicken soup made only with chicken and not bones to be very bland, even if cooked for hours. I usually make mine with one turkey bone chopped into chunks (they do this at the store) and several chicken carcasses. Very tasty and very cheap. And the turkey bone provides a lot of nice meat for floating in the soup.

I also make yummy meat borsht sometimes, but it looks nothing like the hot pink stuff I remember from childhood. It's just a meat and beet soup. We have less of an aversion to beets here then they do in the states.

Anonymous said...

I must speak out about fruit soup.

Fruit soup as I know it is great. My mother's way is to make it without eggs. Great in season, cold fruit soup in hot weather is a treat. On the other hand, the type they used to serve in a camp I wnt to at one time was significantly different and not so attractive.

Anonymous said...

It's the red beets that some people don't like. We have a white beet here that when I cook in the soup everyone likes. Kol rabi (sp?) or something like that.

My mom still makes the fruit soups but I can take it or leave it. But her compote is delicious and since she only makes it for yom tov we look forward to it.

If you are from the Hungary Romania area do you also make leczo? Love it here in my house. The Israelis make baba ganoush(sp?) but we have a Hungarian eggplant I like better. My mom calls it vinitza.

I guess everyone likes the things their mother made and the same name can be way different things depending on where you came from. My mother made lots of those soups you called intergeshlogen, but mostly one with cabbage and red beans in it. Never saw that anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

People who came from the Austrian Hungarian empire saw a lot of cream used in their cooking, regular and whipped. I remember my grandmother saying that the eggs were used to make dishes thick and creamy without using the cream. They used whipped cream for everything. When we were kids the big treat was to have cafe mit shlag--coffee with whipped cream topping it. And the milchidige pastries were truly unbelievable. It's why Shavuous is my favorite yom tov. Once a year we indulge in rokot krumpli--no idea how to spell this correctly, with potatoes and onions and tons of butter and sour cream.

Could be that we don't eat all the old dishes because we've figured out how bad health wise some of them are for us. They still taste great though.

ProfK said...

Yes, I love the leczo. For those unfamiliar with this dish it is peppers and onion and tomatoes sauteed until soft. Sometimes served plain and sometimes with raw eggs incorporated into the mixture until soft scrambled. Just a note: vinita is the Romanian word for eggplant. The baked ground eggplant, onion and hardcooked egg forspeis may have migrated to Hungary but it began in Romania.
My mother in law was from Czechoslavakia and made the soup you mention--intergeshloggen kraut mit bundlach soup. I haven't heard it mentioned in years.

Yes, those milchig pastries are truly amazing. And rockot krumpli taste unbelievably good, but with all the butter and sour cream and hardboiled eggs in it it's a nutritional disaster waiting to happen. Darn it--why does just about everything that tastes the best happen to not be good for you?

Anonymous said...

Our families are a real mix of areas of Europe. Germany, Hungary, Czechoslavakia and Italy. Throw in some great grandparents from Lithuania and one from Russia and one from Poland and you get a real mix of foods in our homes. Even the same dishes had different names. But like you pointed out in the posting all the recipes used everything and anything available. And you could definetely tell who came from homes with more money way back because of some of the foods.

I like shopping in fruit and vegetable stores in ethnic areas because you find stuff in them that is not sold in the regular supermarkets. You go try and find sorrel to make shav with at Stop and Shop.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of funny to see how the foods are different from one generation to the other. My daughters in law use all the fancy cookbooks a whole year except for the chagim. Then they tend to cook the traditional foods with only an occasional new dish they have added. For our grandchildren all the foods we ate regularly when we were young are new dishes. I laughed when I heard my grand daughter ask her mother what cookbook bubby got the borscht recipe from because it looked kind of interesting. My youngest grandson asked what a beet was.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to see how popular this ('my') borscht post is, at least judging by the number of comments. I had a hunch that bosrcht could be a hot topic.

Another topic that comes to mind is cookbooks vs. family traditional handed down recipes, as mentioned by the previous commenter.

Also, there is a new crop of fancy frum cookbooks out lately. Does Prof. K do cookbook reviews ? At least perhaps a few general comments ?

Finally, any thoughts on the notion held by some that Hungarians (broadly defined, let's say, not by the borders of the present day state of that name) are 'the best cooks' ? If there is something to that generalization, how much credit would you give to the relative abundance there for it? Such things can be hard for non-Hungarians to swallow.... :)

Anonymous said...

D - I can't say that Hungarians are the best cooks, since I'm not fond of the Hungarian cooking. But I do know that Russians (not to be confused with Ukrainians, Bellorassians and etc.) are considered the worst cooks. Though I'm Russian myself, and people just love my cooking, but mostly my cooking is borrowed from others that I like.