Homemade Borsch

Ark of taste
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Borsch is a fermented liquid used for flavouring ciorba, a typical thick Romanian sour soup, with a meat base and various root vegetables cut into small pieces eaten as a first course in a standard Romanian lunch meal. Borsch is added in the end of the preparation process, to give the sour taste to the mix. It is typical of the extra-Carpathian region (Moldova and Muntenia) areas where borsch (sour ciorba) is part of the traditional cuisine.It is prepared from wheat bran, corn flour, old bread (or yeast), sour cherry tree branches and lovage. The fermentation process lasts for two days. One of its characteristic features is that it reproduces itself: the active base (hu?ti) that is left at the bottom of the fermentation container can be collected and multiplied further. This property has encouraged the transmission and sharing among community women, and is often used to create a cooking community, with borsch-making women frequently sharing with their neighbors. The taste of the borsch becomes significantly stronger with every successive batch made from the original hu?ti fermented bran starter, a feature which places the transmission process at the core of the product’s quality.Borsch has a pungent, sour taste, with a subtle bitter aftertaste and is flavored with leu?tean (lovage), an aromatic herb that lies at the core of Romanian cuisine. The sourcing of ingredients is considered important for the success of the preparation. The acquisition of the wheat bran, which is a byproduct of wheat milling, is dependent on the accessibility of a flour mill. Industrial bran is thought to be treated with chemicals which kill the yeast. The presence of village mills in Romanian countryside is dramatically decreasing, and with it the availability of the untreated bran.Borsch is firmly embedded in the domestic food production history in Romania and important to each household. It, like other products based on fermentation or other active ingredients (such as rennet), is slowly being replaced by industrial, synthetic versions. Powdered versions of borsch have acquired a large popularity under commercial brands, and domestic knowledge of how to prepare the sour liquid is becoming rare, as well as availability of key ingredients (like wheat bran and sour cherry branches) in urban settings.

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