The gift of community blooms from things cultivated and cared for. It grows out of the knowledge deep within us that there is something essential about coming together. We need community to learn about ourselves, to grow, and to celebrate and support each other.
Growing up, I spent my summers on the Lemko farm, the home of my grandparents in central Saskatchewan. The farm has been in my family since 1909, when my grandfather’s father moved from Western Ukraine and purchased 160 acres of land for ten dollars. It is still in my family today.
Spending time at the farm was total freedom for me. In the open air, I was surrounded by trees, Saskatoon berries, wild roses, and lilac bushes. Hours were spent making up games, gathering wildflowers in the church cemetery, watching storm clouds, playing with my dog, Chandi, and letting my imagination run wild. My favourite, though, was picking and eating handfuls of goodies from my baba’s gardens.
As for my grandparents, Fred was a quiet man who always shared his Neapolitan ice cream with me. Lena was always in an apron, and always willing to help anyone who needed a hand, even though her days were full of farm work. There was always something to do. She would start her day early collecting eggs, feeding her chickens, and even milking the cows. Yet, there would always be steaming syrup-laden pancakes on the table for breakfast.
Her afternoons were devoted to tending her gardens. She had rows and rows of peas, corn, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and beets, plus berries and crab apples. My favourite garden activity was to head to the raspberry bushes to collect the bright ruby gems that we would then eat with fresh cow’s cream or vanilla ice cream.
From my baba, I learned how the most wonderful things in life come in tiny packages: the sweet and crunchy peas that we shelled together to be steamed and eaten with melted butter and just a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It was a ritual that was so simple, yet so delicious. I had no idea at the time that I was being taught to savour fresh and local food. And more than that, I was learning of the pleasure and meditative moments that comes from taking the time to pick, clean, and prepare food with the people I love most.
Those summers spent on the farm have had a lasting impact on me. Every time I’m in the kitchen, I’m guided back to those serene, carefree childhood days. Every time I visit my local farmers’ market, I think of my grandparents and my arms full of root vegetables ready for soups, just like this one: baba’s borshtch, traditionally served on Christmas Eve, but eaten year-round.
Somewhere along the line, I became the keeper of the borshtch recipe in my family. I’ve hesitated sharing it because it is so treasured, but life is better when we share the good stuff. That is how community is created. Truthfully, I don’t follow a recipe when I make this, neither did she. I go by taste. I’m sure you’ll end up making this your own.