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1) Borshch 
        This is my recipe for what the Russians call Ukrainian borshch, acknowledged by all to be the best, especially not to be confused with the vastly inferior Polish borshch, or with Russian cabbage soup which is 'shchi' The following recipe makes about 6 pints, 31/2 litres.

Ingredients (typical, depending upon what's available)

    About 24oz 700 grammes of smoked bacon.  (not too lean - I use cheap offcuts)
    1 Large (12oz) onion.
    Garlic cloves to taste (and keep the vampires away)
    1 small celery
    16 oz cabbage.
    two medium beetroot.
    two medium carrots.
    8oz mushrooms.
    1 tin of kidney beans.
    1 tin chopped tomatoes.
    1 vegetable stock cube.
    1/4 tube tomato puree.
    lemon juice/salt/bay leaf to taste.

    I make this in a 24cm le creuset cast iron pan.

    Heat some oil in the bottom of the pan.  Trim the fat off the bacon and render for extra flavour.  Chop the bacon into small cubes, and chop the onions and garlic.  Put into the pan and fry at medium heat for about five minutes stirring constantly.

    Turn the heat to low, chop the cabbageand celery into small pieces and add to the mixture, allowing to sauté gently for about 10 - 15 minutes whilst you chop everything else up.  Then add the remaining fresh ingredients and allow to sauté for a further 10 minutes.

Now add the tomatoes and beans.  Then make up the stock cube, tomato puree and a few shakes of lemon juice up in a jug with about 600mls of hot water and add to the mixture.  Simmer for a futher 15 minutes before serving with soured cream or Greek yoghurt and, preferably, dark rye bread.  (Squeezing extra raw garlic is opional). Eat one portion the day you make it, but leave the rest for tomorrow and invite some guests.  Add a little more stock if necessary.  Borshch always tastes better on the second day.

2)Samogon (Moonshine)

 Logos and Labels
     The Russians and Ukrainians have akways liked making their own vodka.  This is an adaptation of the recipe and method used by my cousin's mother-in-law , who is an old lady of eighty-odd living in the Crimea.

    The method is safe so long as certain elementary precautions are taken and can, with care, be adapted to make rum, calvados, slivovitz or any other spirit.


    The main precaution is that everything must be filtered before distillation, which should be done on a gentle heat.  There should be no wood, leaves, twigs, fruit skins, husks of grain or anything of that nature in the wort to be distilled.   All these things are made of cellulose, which can produce the highly toxic methanol when distilled.  IF IN DOUBT, DON'T!  This is a particular danger when making fruit brandies.  The 'eau de vie' produced on French farms, where twigs, leaves and grape skins are fermented can sometimes turn out to be 'eau de mort' for this reason.

Method (to produce about 70cl of 45 - 50% vodka)

    Take about 2lb sugar, two quartered lemons, 1/4 loaf of brown bread (for the yeast to feed on), yeast and nutrient.  Put in a gallon fermenting jar with a fermenation trap and fill with warm water to within 8cm of the top.  Allow to ferment for two -three weeks, by which time the specific gravity should be below 1.010.  (Use a hydrometer.)   Then you can distill this wort using the equipment illustrated.  It is an ordinary double boiling pan used for steaming.  Therefore it is not illegal to possess it - I also use it for making Christmas Puddings.  (Thanks to the EU, the law is now a grey area if the capacity of one's still is 3 litres or less and the result is for private use and not for sale.)

    I use an inverted wok lid filled with cold water and ice as the condenser on the top.  I have put a brass bolt through the lid where the handle should normally be.  The wort goes in the bottom container, and a jug to collect the distillate in the top container.  Heat it gently and be patient, or the distillate will have an unpleasant yeasty flavour.  You should get about half a litre of 60%+ alcohol.  The flavour will be greatly improved if you store it for a week or two over charcoal.  I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU THEN DILUTE THIS UP TO 70CL WITH STILL MINERAL WATER.  There is a way of determining the strength by calculating the specific gravity, but you would need good quallity electronic kitchen scales.  Send me an e.mail if you want the details. UPDATE My latest still is a converted pressure cooker - see above!


  A Ukrainian samogon label.  The name indicates
that the source of the alcohol is sugar beet.
     I like the Ukrainian method, which is to slit a hot! red chilli pepper and put it into the bottle.  After two days the flavour will be strong and very hot.  Serve very chilled with borshch and rye bread.

    Adding assorted herbs, especially CARAWAY seeds will produce something like the traditional akavit.  Using a molasses - brown sugar mixture will yield a white rum, which can be coloured and flavoured by storing over winemakers' oak chippings and adding caramel.

3) Yoghurt/Sour Cream (cMeTaHa)

If you have a warm airing cupboard it really couldn't be easier.  You need a culture to start the yoghurt/sour cream.  Any live yoghurt will do, but I prefer the mild cultures you find in Greek yoghurt.  (The strain of bacterium is lactobacillus acidophilus bulgaricus.)

    To guarantee that this method will work, you must use UHT milk or cream.  (It's cheaper anyway!!)
To make 1 litre of yoghurt, pour 1 litre of UHT milk into a pudding basin, add one desertspoonful of live yoghurt, (you can use the liquid whey), cover with a plate and put in a warm airing cupboard (40oC) for 24 hours.  It will set beautifully.  I make soured cream in exactly the same way, 3/4pint at a time in an ex instant coffee jar or a large jamjar.  Have you ever had pancakes with golden syrup and sour cream?  Try it!!

Beware of Probiotic rip-offs! All live yoghurts are probiotic.  So-called probiotic drinks are overpackaged and overpriced blends of live yoghurt and milk.  They are very often dishonestly and misleadingly marketed. Make your own: - use the expensive one as a starter culture if you like!!  NB: a pure L Casei culture (and some products suggest they are but ain't) will make fromage frais with the above method and UHT milk, but will yield separate creamcheese curds and whey if you use boiled milk - e-mail me if you want to know more.

4) Olive Bread.

Ingredients for one large or two small loaves.
750 grammes extra strong white flour (or 50-50 white/granary mix)
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp peppercorns
25 grammes extra virgin olive oil.
50 grammes of chopped black Kalamata olives
one packet easy yeast + 1tsp honey + shake of lemon juice
420mls water.

Method Grind the salt and peppercorns in some way (I use a marble mortar &pestle).  You could include some caraway seeds too if you like.  Add all this to the flour and stir in with a fork.  Mix the yeast, honey, and lemon juice in a glasss measuring jug, then make up with lukewarm water to 420 ml -NO MORE!  It is better to have slightly too little liquid rather than too much.  Leave this for about 10 minutes to start working.  Grease and flour a baking tray.   Make a well in the centre of the flour, and add the olives and olive oil.  Add the yeast/water mixture and start mixing with a flat blunt knife.  After about five minutes, continue mixing by hand until all the flour has been absorbed, and the dough stops sticking to your hands - really beat the dough up!! (It's theraputic, helps disperse the yeast properly, and means you don't need to double-prove.)  Shape your loaves, with a depression in the centre, and place on the baking tray.  Cover (I use a plastic oblong washing bowl) and leave for about an hour until the dough has at least doubled in size.  Bake for about 20 - 35 minutes at 420F.   Invite some friends for dinner, and eat the bread with extra olives and a Manzanilla or Amontillado aperetif.  (Sercial or Verdelho Madeira is also very nice, but more expensive and difficult to find.)

5) Aftershave
(to use 50ml of the 60% Samogon above.)

recipe with essential oils of jasmine, patchouli etc., to follow next update.

(Background picture by Miriam Macgregor)

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