Thursday, 12 April 2018

Q83: What is the Origin of ‘borshch’?

During Orthodox Easter dinner on April 9th here in Ottawa, I served my traditional Doukhobor vegetable soup — borshch — which I cooked using my mother’s recipe.

My guests asked a question that never occurred to me:
'What is the Origin of borshch'?

Photo by William (Uncle Bill) Anatooskin


In the past I was more concerned about the English transliteration of the Russian spelling which does not have a ‘t’ at the end. Q76: Correct Spelling of borshch?

Historically this was a staple Slavic poor peoples’ peasant soup, made year-round with local ingredients.

A Google search for ‘origins of borshch, borshcht, borsch, borscht’ returns what appear to be well researched histories with similar information. Russian and English Wikipedia histories differ. Here is a summary with 'Sources Online' listed below:
  • The origin of borsch is unknown, most likely, it appeared on the territory formerly occupied by Kievan Rus. Apparently, the widespread opinion that "borsch" [brshch] is an Old [East] Slavic name for beets, should be attributed to folk etymology .. [the word] ... is not … in dictionaries of ancient Slavic dialects, ....(2) (Russian Wikipedia)
  • ... [a soup like] borshch used to be the national food in Ancient Rome (8th century BC), where cabbages and beets were specifically cultivated for that purpose. … the modern version of borshch appeared around the 15th century. … the name came ... from the plant borshchevik (hogweed, cow parsnip) – one of the key ingredients … [and] or, from the word brshch, which meant beet in Old Slavonic. (1,4,5)
  • In the beginning, borscht was made with brsh root [Old East Slavonic term], not red beet root. Brsh, common hogweed ... was ... fed to swine ... also human food ... in the spring peasant would gather tender brsh leaves to cook as green and store the ... roots for winter soup. ... borshch ... originated in Ukraine. (page 5) (1)
  • Variations are widely distributed by migrating Slavs and peoples who carried and modified their borshch recipes around the world, including China. (3)
  • Variations are dictated by the land, weather, and local traditions, but also by circumstance: people from different cultures intermarry; families are both willingly and forcibly moved. (6)
  • Part of the family of sour soups, borscht is originally Ukrainian, … the beetroot-centered crimson version being the best-known. … white borscht, also called sour rye soup ... green borscht, packed with sorrel leaves [Щавель кислый, sour shavel’ ]. The consistent theme is that the soup has a sour taste, and that is can be eaten warm or cold (8)
  • “There are literally hundreds of recipes,” explained Halyna Klid, of the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. “In Chernihiv province, a handful of buckwheat is added. In Lviv province, people use hunter's sausage.” …. There is also such a thing as bad borscht. (5)
  • borsch, borscht, … was not originally cooked with beets … the first experiment in transmitting the human voice from orbital flight involved the broadcasting of a borsch recipe ? (Burlakoff 1)
  • With nearly 200 fasting days per year, the Christian Orthodox Church had a profound influence on dietary habits of the faithful ... the most important of the prolonged fasts were the weeks before Christmas and Easter. Without meat, borscht got it's flavor from vegetables, ... (page 8) ... even a watermelon soup, ... in Paraguay, is called borscht. (page 9) (1)
  • Borscht belt is a "region of predominantly Jewish resorts in and around the Catskill Mountains of New York" (9)
Sources Online
  1. Gueldner, Rose Marie. A Taste of Tradition: Borscht, Glückstal Colonies Research Association Newsletter, November 2016, pages 5-9.
  2. Борщ, Wikipedia (Russian).
  3. Borscht, Wikipedia (English).
  4. Skorchenko, Evgenia. Of Russian origin: Borshch, RT Russiapedia.
  5. Schaap, Rosie. How borscht crosses the border between Ukraine and Russia: Can a pot of soup contain clues to the character of a country and its crisis?, Al Jazeera America, April 10, 2014.
  6. Hercules, Olia. Let Me Count the Ways of Making Borscht, The New Yorker, December 7, 2017.
  7. Meek, James. The story of borshch, The Guardian, March 15, 2008.
  8. Charney, Noah. Cooking the Classics: Borscht, Fine Dining Lovers, July 11, 2017.
  9. borscht (n.), Online Etymology Dictionary.
Books by Burlakoff
  1. Burlakoff, Nikolai. The World of Russian Borsch, Aelita Press, 2013, 240 pages.
  2. Burlakoff, Nikolai. Erol Beet and the Borsch Angel: How the Borsch Angel Got Her Name, Aelita Press, June 28, 2012. 32 pages.

See all Questions and Answers.

What borshch means to me

As a comfort dish of many local culinary Slavic peoples, this soup dish is commonly made in a big pot to feed everybody for several days, and is often more delicious the next day.

Many Doukhobor and Mennonite websites talk about borshch (borsht, borshcht) as a popular dish amongst their population.

As I see it, borshch has become a world wide common dish with almost institutional qualities.

Because of their pacifist nonkilling stance, Doukhobor borshch was traditionally vegetarian, with dill, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, beets and butter being its most prominent ingredients. Today, 2018, only a small minority of Doukhobors are vegetarian, although those who make borshch make it without meat.

Most other non-Doukhobor borshch recipes often include meat as part of it although in the pioneering era, less than 10 percent of the population ate meat because it was largely not available and was expensive.

Borshch is utilitarian in that you could include almost any available vegetable that you have around and add meat if that is your preference. It’s cheap, available, communal and healthy. A universal dish! A similar soup was made in Roman times.

During the Soviet Union, borshch was the most common dish enjoyed at home and in restaurants. It was even used by Russian cosmonauts in freeze-dried form.

Borshch is a ritual dish for Orthodox, Greek, Roman Catholic and Jewish peoples in Eastern Europe. For Doukhobors, it is the first food served (without meat) at funerals.

In brief, for Doukhobors, borshch is a universal dish with Slavic heritage and communal roots, and is largely known for its association with hospitality, nonkilling and good health.

Thanks to our Russian ancestors who have for centuries made this delicacy a contribution to world culture, these are outstanding human qualities that society dearly needs today. Enjoy!

Bolshoe spasibo! [A Big thank you!]

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Issues for the World Peace Forum

Plans are in full swing to hold the 12th World Peace Forum in Toronto, Canada April 19 -22, 2018, organized by the Schengen Peace Foundation.

This year the program is "Leadership for Peace" — conflict resolution, connecting peacemakers to women, stability and peace, and finding common global values.

I will not be able to attend the Toronto Peace Forum. So I emailed to my peace network, some of whom are attending, a set of issues that I believe would make the Peace Forum more dynamic and relevant:
  • A paradigm shift from a war economy and culture to one based on nonkilling peace.
  • Support the United Nations to get rid of 'the scourge of war' and confirming that life is a human right and that nonkilling is the way of the future.
  • Disarmament is the road for getting rid of weapons of mass destruction and beginning a new era of normalizing civilized life.
  • Propaganda. Recognizing that wars have been started by misinformation. Because the media and the politicians have an important role in preventing wars, how do we encourage them to be professionally responsible?
  • Education. Bringing up children of goodwill requires good schools, full health coverage, housing, transportation, and a healthy environment; and continuing education for everyone.
  • Respect our neighbours including nations, via bridge-building, diplomacy, international laws, and Departments of Peace. Avoid regime change,  military bases abroad. Get to know the stranger.

Several people replied by email.
Also see comments at bottom.
From Steve Staples:

Thanks Koozma. First I had heard about it.
From Gord Breedyk:

Thanks Koozma, I will look for opportunities to make those points. We aren’t sure what the “Forum” will be like, never having attended before. However, we felt we couldn’t pass it up, since it is so close There are four of us from Civilian Peace Service attending.
From Bill Bheneja:

Thank you Koozma for pointing these excellent peace themes so succinctly.

Saul and I attended one of the earliest Peace Forums in Vancouver in 2006, one of the many workshops/seminars there was on Department of Peace; it was in connection with Second Global Summit of Departments of Peace conference being held in Victoria, we had several high level speakers including US Congressman Denis Kuccinich and Dot Maver.
From Peter Stockdale:

I agree.
From Murray Thomson:

Very good, Koozma, Champion of Nonkilling (I hate the word but love its meaning)! Stay nonkillingableforever.
Reply from Bill Bhaneja:

Thank you, Murray. It was great to be out with the like- minded. 100 years ago, people hated the word Nonviolence, except a few like Tolstoy and Gandhi. 100 years from now when we become sick of deliberately taking human lives, Nonkilling will be the word. That sounds so high minded!

As I post this article on April 4th, I am reminded that 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on this day in the USA by a lone gunman. Because King made a radical indictment of US empire, militarism, capitalism and racism, the main stream media demonized him. Here are King's words of wisdom which organizers of the World Peace Forum need to take to heart by speaking truth to power:
'We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. . . . When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.' — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967.
King's legacy is a moral reminder to all of us that we must persevere against the forces of evil not just with words but with deeds for nonkilling peace — or face human extinction. The 12th World Peace Forum is an opportunity to address this challenge. The question is: Will the participants dare to do so?