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On Conserving and Creating (+ Ukrainian borscht recipe)

Conservatism is, and always has been, a nebulous concept at every possible level of life and politics. The modern Conservative Party here in the UK is very different in its principles, for instance, to the strains of conservatism that are prevalent in the US, Eastern Europe, or any other part of the world.

Namely, it has shied away from having any.

We are quick to criticise the Labour Party for the mental gymnastics that underpin its doctrines, which appear to change (perhaps by design) with the wild undulations of public opinion (that is, on Twitter), ‘identity politics,’ and the interests of certain shareholders. Labourites are a pesky bunch—always clamouring for the throne of righteousness, yet burning down the palace in which that throne stands. But what of the Conservative Party?

The goal of a Conservative, I presume, is to conserve something. But rarely do I see anyone undertaking this challenge. Instead, in the younger members of the Conservative Party, I have witnessed a great deal of ideological wishy-washiness, ungainly attempts at social climbing, and an unwillingness to confront the destruction (of public institutions, of schools, of cultural traditions, of farming practices, of the environment) happening all around us. As Rome burns, we cradle our lyres and pontificate about the state of the global economy. In this sense, are we not emulating those we claim to oppose? Are we not preaching about the perils of ill-defined ‘systemic’ issues without daring to identify things that we can actually begin to change? Dear reader, are we afraid to actually do anything?

These past two years have distanced all of us from our local communities in unspeakably unnatural ways. Politicians, journalists, academics, and other irredeemably nerdy members of the neoliberal bourgeoisie have attempted to convince us that attending online meetups, avoiding our dearest friends and family members, and reporting suspicious (that is, social) activity is not only an appropriate response in an emergency—but that it’s healthy! What a dire state of affairs for all of us. When this country sank into its state of collective delusion, many Conservatives fought against the draconian and nonsensical actions of Government. What we failed to do, however, was consider an alternative other than inaction. And so, we forged the path to our own atomisation.

I propose that we try something different. In recent months, I have attempted to piece together various elements of my pseudo-political thinking in order to extract a key, unifying feature of what I believe. After much consideration, I am pleased to announce that I believe in traditional cooking.

Let me explain. To me, it seems that the conservation of our principles rests not on the rigid, top-down policies of governments, but emanates from the home. And before you judge me as some sort of extremist, I must say that I am not convinced by right-wing invocations of ‘traditional values.’ I do not wish to time-travel back to a pre-modern society, spend my days churning butter, and die of scarlet fever. But I am also not a historical positivist. We have much to learn from the actions of those who came before us, and I think it is a shame that many of us have lost touch with the communal, localist nature of the pre-industrial world as it applies to our personal lives.

I believe that incorporating some elements of this mindset into our own lives, without imposing them on society as a whole, is enough to convince others of the benefits of embracing a culture of conservation. We can start by making a conscious effort to learn about our local communities, even if we’re only planning on inhabiting them transiently. Ask yourself—where does your food come from? What are the most pressing issues facing you, someone who lives in Cambridge? What can you do, right now, to benefit the environment, and the people, you see around you? Never mind the individualistic notion of ‘identity’ batted around in the most narcissistic corners of public discourse. You are not, despite the claims of the chronically-online, reducible to a set of labels. Your quality as a person can only be assured by your actions.

In order to be Conservatives, we must make conservation an active part of our lives. Instead of living in the sheltered and impersonal way that has been pushed onto us for the past two years, I recommend that we adopt a radically different set of practices—of compassion, community-building, and honesty.

In the spirit of traditional cooking, I’m leaving you with my family’s Ukrainian borscht recipe. It’s a good dish for getting friends together, bonding over something shared, and enjoying the simple things that make life wonderful.

And, while we’re here, God bless Ukraine.

Ksenia’s Borscht Recipe

This isn’t an exact recipe, which is intentional. Everyone has their own preferences! Figure out what you like, and stick with that. This is a very forgiving soup.

What you will need:

For the soup:

· 1kg beef (I prefer to get a nice roasting joint)

· Three chicken stock cubes

· 5 large carrots

· 4 large beets

· 3 white/yellow onions

· 1 small head of white cabbage

· 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

· 4 tablespoons of tomato puree

· 3 tablespoons of sugar

· 2 tablespoons of dried parsley

· 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

· Salt and pepper (to taste)

· 1 bay leaf

For the garnish:

· Fresh, chopped dill

· Plain Greek yoghurt or sour cream


· First, you will need to make some broth. Peel one carrot, one onion, and one beet, and place them in a large pot. Then, trim the beef of fat, and put it into the pot. Sprinkle in a bit of salt and black pepper. Add the bay leaf. Add cold water to the pot until it is almost full, cover it, and place the pot on the stove at a medium heat. The idea is to get it to a simmer, and to have it simmering gently for one hour or so.

· While the broth is simmering, finely chop the garlic and remaining two onions. Grate the remaining carrots, shred the head of cabbage with a sharp knife, and chop the beetroots into small pieces.

· Begin browning the garlic and onions in a pan with butter or olive oil. This will smell great. Once they become golden-brown, add the grated carrots, and then the cabbage. Keep frying everything together at a medium heat—you’ll want to evaporate as much water from the vegetables as you can without burning anything. Don’t add any salt; the water will be drawn from the vegetables too quickly, and you’ll get a mushy mess. Be patient. This is why we put the stock on when we begin this recipe—we are buying ourselves some time!

· Once you’ve fried the vegetables to an adequate extent, add the chopped beets, four tablespoons of tomato puree, dried parsley, and some black pepper.

· With a bit of boiling water, dissolve the chicken stock cubes and make a paste. Add that paste to your vegetables, which should still be cooking at a low heat. Stir it all together, and keep stirring.

· By now, if you’ve timed things correctly, your stock might be ready. Remove and discard the onion, carrot, and beet from your stock. Take out the beef, let it cool for a bit, and thinly slice it into small pieces on a chopping board.

· Add your fried vegetables to the stock. Then, add the sliced beef.

· Season the soup with the red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt (to taste).

· Now is when the magic happens. If you try the soup at this point, it won’t taste as it should. That’s because it needs some more time. Leave your borscht on the stove at a low heat for about three hours, and make sure nothing boils over.

After my borscht is done cooking, I like to let it cool down for about a day. Day 2 borscht always tastes better, since the flavours get a chance to settle down. However! If you’ve followed the recipe correctly, the soup should still be good to eat right now.

Spoon a couple of ladles of borscht into a bowl, garnish with a dollop of yogurt/sour cream, and sprinkle some chopped dill on top. Serve with brown bread and butter.

Enjoy with friends!


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