Shelly Butcher's Cold Beet Soup with Buttermilk
Shelly Butcher's Cold Beet Soup with Buttermilk

You’ll be rushin’ to eat some of this cold beet soup

Psst! Let me tell you a secret. My real last name isn’t Butcher, my ancestors didn’t arrive here on the Mayflower and my vocabulary of Russian swear words is better than the average American’s.

I have no idea what our real last name was. Family lore tells of my great-grandfather’s arrival from Odessa at the port of Philadelphia, where a confused clerk wrote Butcher on the line reading surname, after a wealthy Philadelphia dynasty whose family name was plastered all over the city.

Per my brother’s interview of an aunt, our family name may have been Butchovsky, though my Russian-speaking friends opine that Shochet or Reznikov are much more likely. I’ll probably never know. Aunt Glenda did mention that the Butchers (or Shochets or Reznikovs) traveled to Ukraine to join the secular Jewish socialists, who were very hip in Odessa at the time. Their country of origin: Poland. While I like Chopin, I love Dostoyevsky, so I sort of hope my ancestors originated from some disputed territory where Russian was the primary language. Not that it matters, really. They were all one pogrom away from a boat to the Goldene Medina, Yiddish for the golden land.

More than just my last name, I wonder what those people were like, my ancestors. What brought them to socialism? Was it the utter poverty of their lives? Or an education gleaned from books? Did they go to the library? Buy Yiddish books from the shtetl bookseller? And what did they eat?

To that end, here is a recipe for a summer-into-autumn, cold beet soup with boiled potatoes with beet greens on the side. Maybe my great-great-grandmother would have made something like this for dinner in Odessa, or whatever quaint Slavic village they might have lived in.

Cold Beet Soup with Buttermilk

Makes 4-6 servings

1 lb. beets, washed and trimmed, greens reserved
¼ tsp. salt
3¾ cups buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
1 dill pickle, finely chopped
2 Persian cucumbers, finely chopped
¼ cup kombucha (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch dill, chopped
4 green onions, chopped (green part only)
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved

In a medium pot, add beets and enough water to reach halfway up beets. Add salt and cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer until tender. Cool in cooking water. Remove beets from pot. Add buttermilk and sour cream to cooking water. Blend well with whisk. Grate beets into pot. Add remaining ingredients, except green onions and eggs. Chill. Serve cold, topped with green onions and egg.

Shelly ButcherBoiled Potatoes with Beet Greens
Shelly Butcher’s Boiled Potatoes with Beet Greens

Boiled Potatoes with Beet Greens

Makes 4 servings

1 lb. large potatoes
Beet greens, rinsed and chopped, reserved from beets
Salt and pepper to taste
3 green onions, chopped (greens only)

Peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Boil in salted water. Add chopped greens during the last minute or two of cooking. Drain when potatoes are tender. In drained pot, melt butter and sauté beet greens and potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in green onions until wilted, add more butter if dry. Serve with beet soup.

Shelly Butcher
Shelly Butcher

Shelly Butcher is a technical writer and a food writer. She enjoys exploring the fundamental interconnectedness of all things food, where kreplach meet wontons. She blogs at