2006.03.01: March 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Food: The Register-Guard: Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett eat Bowlfuls of borsch in Ukraine

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: 2006.03.01: March 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Food: The Register-Guard: Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett eat Bowlfuls of borsch in Ukraine

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Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett eat Bowlfuls of borsch in Ukraine

Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett eat Bowlfuls of borsch in Ukraine

Nina constantly fed us borsch and cabbage rolls called golubtsy, as well as dumplings called pelmeni and vareniki. In Russian, we recited lines such as, "Thank you. I'm full. It was delicious." But they never worked.

Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett eat Bowlfuls of borsch in Ukraine

Bowlfuls of borsch
Food Lore From The Peace Corps: Adventurous eating is part of the job for volunteers in far corners of the world

By Jennifer Snelling

For The Register-Guard

Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

As Peace Corps celebrates its 45th anniversary this week, some local volunteers share their experiences and recipes:

Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett: Ukraine, 2002-04

Our host mom, Nina, scoops two more bowlfuls of borsch, setting them in front of us as if we're hungry dogs. She scolds my husband, Zack, for not peeling the meat off the twisted mass of pork bones and tendons she put in his first helping. The hot beet soup - sweet, salty and slippery with pork fat - slides down our throats. I eat a raw clove of garlic to help cut the grease. One look at Nina's face and we know it. We're locked in a battle of wills. She wants us fat. We can't afford to pack on any additional pounds. We eat until our sides ache. We're too skinny, and she has just the cure: borsch, laced with lard.

Every fall, she renders the shortening from her own pigs and stores it in glass jars on the cellar shelf next to the raspberry jam and fruit compote. Such scenes were why some of the first Russian sentences we learned were polite ways to decline third and fourth portions.

Nina constantly fed us borsch and cabbage rolls called golubtsy, as well as dumplings called pelmeni and vareniki. In Russian, we recited lines such as, "Thank you. I'm full. It was delicious." But they never worked.

A table stacked with a feast is the greatest gift of all in Ukraine, where 75 years ago millions starved to death in a Stalin-engineered famine - a shortage of food in one of the most fertile places on Earth. After the famine, there wasn't always food. Even now, you eat when you have it. You share it when you have it. You don't say no to it.

When our Peace Corps training ended, we moved from Nina's village house to an apartment in a city of 800,000. There, we trimmed fat from Nina's borsch recipe. Over the next two years, we tasted many versions of borsch - with chicken, with beef, with white beans or with brown beans. Most Ukrainians think their mother's borsch is tastiest. We're no different. Nina's borsch will always be the best.

Jamie Hoag Barnett is an overseas program coordinator in the UO Office of International Programs. Zack Barnett is a master's student in the Literary Nonfiction program at the UO School of Journalism.

Recipes from volunteers

Peace Corps Online

Peace Corps volunteers including Maggie Keenan (shown in photo at lower left taken while she was in the Philippines) learn much about an area's culture through the sharing of food. Photo: Paul Carter
The Register-Guard

Nina's Borscht -

The Lite Version

From Jamie Hoag Barnett and Zack Barnett: Ukraine, 2002-04.

1/2 to 1 pound pork or beef, with or without bone

1 to 2 cups white beans

1 medium onion, few slices, the rest diced

1/2 beet, julienned

4 to 5 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 to 2 bay leaves

1 to 2 carrots, peeled and grated

1 to 2 tomatoes, diced

1/2 to 3/4 cup tomato paste

1 cup cabbage, julienned

Parsley or dill, to taste

Salt, to taste

Sour cream

Add the meat and beans to a large pot of boiling water. After the water returns to boil, add a few small slices of onion and the beet to the pot. Spoon away any foam from the pot. Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Add potatoes to pot and remove the onion. Add bay leaves. Partially cover pot. Stir occasionally.

In skillet, saute (in sunflower oil, if possible) carrots, tomatoes and the rest of the diced onion. After all are slightly soft, add tomato paste. Let cook for a few minutes, while stirring. Then add to pot.

Stir occasionally as pot returns to boil. Taste and add salt if necessary. When meat is cooked, cut it into pieces and put back in the pot (or use already cubed meat). When beans are soft to your liking, add cabbage and parsley or dill and boil for 5 more minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Eat with bread and a raw clove of garlic.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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