Moving Vegetables: Hvar Beetroot Makes Borscht in Southern Russia

Total Croatia News


July 7, 2019 – The Croatian culture of moving vegetables goes global as never before, with the first Hvar beetroot used in homemade borscht in Pyatigorsk in southern Russia. 

Life as a Dalmatian zet (son-in-law) is not easy. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have the best parents-in-law in the world, and they have been VERY accommodating over the years of this weird fat, pink English bloke their daughter dragged up from somewhere. 

It is just that there are some fundamental differences in basic things. Like vegetables, and moving vegetables. 


As a boy from Manchester, it is no secret that our vegetables are all grown in supermarkets, and the concept of seasonality simply does not exist. 

So it was quite a shock to move to a gorgeous Dalmatian island and become part of a Hvar family which was very much connected to nature and the fruits of the field. Much of the food on the family table was grown by my father-in-law, and while he has always been outstanding with me, it is clear that a son-in-law digging potatoes rather than playing around on a laptop with a beer all day would have been a preferred option. 

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He is an amazing, hard-working man who has achieved great things from his humble beginnings. One of ten children who had to walk 90 minutes to and from school from Brusje to Hvar Town each day, he not only managed to build his own family house in Jelsa, but also put his four kids through university. And his passion was the field he bought almost 30 years ago, where the family olive oil (excellent), wine (very good) and daily fruit and vegetables come from. 

That affinity to nature was one of the great things about bringing up children on Hvar (apart from the safety, community and of course the Adriatic), and this Manchester boy and entourage is now an enthusiastic olive picker each harvest. One of the few obligations of a Dalmatian zet. 


It wasn’t long before I lived in Jelsa that I began to understand the importance (and generosity) of the whole moving vegetables scene. When we moved into the family house and the top floor apartment, there was a welcoming gift for me – a stainless steel tank of his homemade wine, marked Pol (a variation of my first name). It was incredibly generous and the tank which just kept on giving, until one day it gave no more… 

But it was the journeys I remember the best. You are going to Zagreb to stay with my son? The boot of the car was filled with cabbage the next morning. And oddly, six months later, when I was making the journey in reverse, a boot full of different cabbage was making its way from Zagreb to Jelsa. I was totally immersed in the culture of moving vegetables. 

I remember flying to London about 15 years ago from Graz, via Zagreb. As a passenger on the bus, I found the 10 litres of wine for delivery to Zagreb and the (VERY generous) 5 litres of olive oil for my family in the UK, quite a challenge, particularly as I tried to check in the oil at Graz Airport. But I was not only grateful but charmed by such a generous and natural way 

And then, one day, my status as leading foreign child-in-law was challenged, as my other brother-in-law returned from the cruise ships with an exotic fiancee. 

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Julia was everything I was not – young, beautiful and a very good olive picker, and the first time she came to visit, she insisted on preparing dinner for her fiance’s family – a really delicious borscht. My father-in-law was impressed, and I saw that I had lost my spot as preferred in-law forever. 


(A Russian and a Brit compete for the title of Best Foreign In-Law Olive Picker 2017 – there was only one winner, and it was not me)

She, too, was a child of the land, in a way that this boy from Manchester could never be. And as the young (now married) couple prepared to visit her family in Pyatigorsk in southern Russia, including her incredible babuska, who sounded like she had much in common with my father-in-law, discussions took place about the type of gifts they should take from Hvar to Julia’s family. 

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A golden moving vegetables moment, and my father-in-law came up with a most personal and culturally acceptable gift which really touched the hearts of Julia’s family – Hvar beetroot from his field. 

And that is how the first borscht in the history of Russia (we think) came to be made from Hvar beetroot. And not just borscht, but an array of salads and other dishes.  

You wouldn’t get that in Manchester. 

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(Babuska and Punica)

Learn more about Moving Vegetables here



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