Saturday, August 9, 2008

Nothing Beets Borscht, by Blanksteen; Beet Preserves

In case you are wondering why I decided to write a Russian cookbook, the original reason was to make my last semester of high school more interesting.

Don't hate Jane Blanksteen because she was a young thing... a young thing with a publishing deal. Don't hate her because, when her book Nothing Beets Borschts: Jane's Russian Cookbook hit the bookstores in 1974, she was a student at Yale. Hate her cutesy pun in the title, if you must, but otherwise? Jane seems like the sort of person you'd want to sit down to tea (and/or vodka) with.
Beet Preserves

(From Louise McGrath, who got it from Katherine Alexeieff)

This is like a marmalade except it is made with beets. I would like to give this recipe a star, or something, because it is not just another jam -- it is...

Sorry, I've been trying to think of an uncorny word to describe something that tastes good, but I haven't come up with anything. Let it suffice to say: Try it.

(2 cups)

2 pounds beet (large, tough beets can be used)
Boiling water
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 cup slivered or coarsely chopped almonds
2 juicy lemons (medium-sized)

Put the washed, but unpeeled, beets in a pot, cover them with boiling water, and simmer until they are tender. This will take about an hour -- more or less depending on the size of the beets.

Rinse the cooked beets with cold water until they are cool, so that you can handle them without causing any serious damage to the skin on your hands. You should then be able to slip the beet skin off the beet without much trouble.

When you have skin the beets, dice them into 1/4-inch cubes.

Put the beets into a waterless pot with the sugar, ginger, and almonds. stir this mixture so that the beets are evenly coated with the sugar and ginger and the almonds are well distributed.

Put the pot over a very tiny flame and cook uncovered for 1/2 hour, stirring every now and then to keep it from burning.

After the 1/2 hour is up, chop the lemons very fine, peel and all; discard any seeds. Add the lemon to the pot. Continue cooking for another 1/2 hour.

Give this mixture a jelly test at this point: Put a tiny bit of jelly onto a plate and let it stand for 5 minutes. If it jells -- test by running your finger through it; if it wrinkles up it is jelled -- then pour the jam into hot, dry jars. Let stand until they cool, then cover and seal the jars. If you know nothing about sealing jars, use old jars from commercial jellies and jams, or just keep it refrigerated.

Russians serve this in little glass saucers with their tea, or it can be used to spread on delicious white bread, such as the one in the preceding recipe.

The cutesy pun in the title is the only one of its kind in the book. Otherwise, Jane Blanksteen is conversational, a bit chatty, and very easy to understand. She'll weave in stories of her time in the Soviet Union -- because, yes, it was still very much the Soviet Union when this was compiled -- but also cultural history, religious traditions, and frank honesty about when she's just winging it to make it come out right. There's even multiple-page spreads of Jane's own drawings to show different techniques. It's a fine book, and, yes, we'll get to the borscht this week.

I came by Nothing Beets Borscht in the best of ways: passed on to me by my sister (who helpfully corrected my remembering -- note to self: write down where I get new cookbooks for the future...).

Dinner for me tonight is a can of soup; this week, though, we'll have scads of soup recipes to drool over, many of which are served cold, and so will be perfect for mid-August Olympics-watching suppers.

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