Summer Borscht: We Called it Beet Leaf Soup

Usually eaten only in the spring or early summer, Summer Borscht is a beloved soup.
Imagine a world without year-round access to fresh and frozen produce. What would you eat in the winter? Well, you would eat canned fruits and vegetables, perhaps some that you preserved yourself from your large summer vegetable garden. And you would eat potatoes (also grown in that garden) because potatoes can be stored for long periods of time. Some cured or canned meat might round out the menu along with some bread.  

Spring would bring an intense hunger for fresh vegetables.
Dill is a fragrant herb used often in Mennonite cooking.  

Years ago many, if not most families ate that way. They knew nothing other than "eating local." This was true during the Depression days when my mother was growing up in northern Minnesota in a family hit hard by the economic downturn.  As winter plodded on and the supply of canned goods in the cellar dwindled, the potatoes shriveled and became spongy with age.  A glimpse of green and whiff of warmth brought hope. They were hungry and they were hungry for Summer Borscht.

Start eating your potatoes early when the flavor is the best. 
Summer Borscht was a traditional soup among the Mennonites who immigrated from Russia in the mid 1870's. The main ingredients were new potatoes, dill, and onion and beet greens cooked in a ham broth. 

"We can hardly wait for our first taste of this soup in the spring," wrote my mother about this recipe. "As soon as the dill peeks through the ground, our mouths begin to water for this flavorful soup."  Our mother's enthusiasm for this soup was contagious and my siblings* and I cheerfully ate this soup without being repulsed by the greens it contained. This soup served as a spring tonic for us as it had for our forefathers.  We called it Beet Leaf Soup.

Mom always planted beets (shown above) and onions as early as possible.
A good home garden gives you most of  the ingredients needed to make this soup. No home garden?  Check out your local Farmer's Market. Some of the mixed greens available in your grocery store appear to have beet leaves and might work in this recipe as well. 

Here is the recipe as my mother wrote it. The measurements are approximate. She did not ever measure her ingredients for this soup and you don't need to either. Personally, I think the amount of water used is a little high and I would probably add more beet leaves since they cook down so much. Use the recipe as  a general guideline, but a little more or less of almost any ingredient will still make a very tasty soup.

Summer Borscht
also known as: Beet Leaf Soup or Dill Weed Soup
For a printable copy, click here.

Cook 1 Ham Hock about 1 hour in 15 cups of water. 

2 cups chopped beet leaves
2 cups chopped onion greens
1 cup chopped dill leaves
2 cups potatoes, diced, preferably new potatoes
Optional: any other greens you have or enjoy. 

Cook soup until potatoes are done.
Add 1/2 cup sour cream before serving. 

* Correction! My brother confesses:  "I spent most of my childhood refusing to eat it. What a waste."

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