Dariya Draganova, Staff Writer
On a crisp winter morning a week before Christmas, my family would load into our car and make the 60 mile drive to my grandparents’ town. Back then, as a little girl growing up in Bulgaria during the late 1980’s, the 60 mile stretch always seemed very, very long. As soon as we would arrive, my grandma’s ecstatic voice would boom from inside the house, welcoming us before we had even crossed the yard. Before we knew it, she wrapped herself around all of us, leaving big loving kisses on all of our faces.
The following week was always spent preparing for Christmas Eve. In Bulgaria, Christmas itself is not of im-portance. The tradition gives much greater significance to the Evening leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. This is our time of celebration and a time to wish each other good health and fortune for the year to come.
At my grandma’s, it was always the dinner table surrounded by the warmth and love of family that was themost memorable part of this holiday. I cannot recall a single of the gifts I received on those nights, but I can recall the food, the songs and the laughter. The week of preparation was not only enjoyable, but when our labor was finally displayed on that Christmas Eve dinner table, we all knew that the type of richness we had been blessed with was of the best kind.
The food that is such an essential part of this experience, has been on our Christmas Eve dinner tables for centuries. As per our tradition, Christmas Eve is vegetarian, and on the table you can find bean dishes, stuffed bell peppers, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage leaves, boiled wheat berries, pumpkin desserts, lots of fruits prepared in a myriad of ways, lots of honey, lots of walnuts, and a very traditional style round bread. The recipes that make this such a delicious experience take years of practice to perfect. However, I’ve included two recipes that are relatively easy, yet absolutely central to every Christmas Eve dinner table across all of Bulgaria. These recipes celebrate and honor the fertility of the land.
Oshav (mixture of dried fruit, boiled and served in warm syrup)
In small Bulgarian countryside towns, it is still common to dry summer fruits in the strong summer sun and then store them for consumption during the winter months. In celebration of summer productivity, this recipe using dried fruits is a must-have on every Bulgarian Christmas Eve dinner table. I would argue, it is a must have on eve-ry dinner table, as it is delicious and very healthy!
- Dehydrated apples, pears, and prunes; (optional – dehydrated apricots, figs and cherries)
- Sugar or honey
Ratio: 1 pound of a dried fruit mixture requires ½ cup of sugar or honey.
How many of each fruit you use is entirely up to your taste, however, all the fruits must be dried and pitted. If obtaining dehydrated fruits proves to be difficult, you can use a dehydrator; alternatively, you can thinly slice the fruits and dry them overnight in a conventional oven on the lowest possible temperature setting, hopefully no higher than 140 F.
Put the dried fruits in a pot, add enough water to cover them pretty well, and then add the sugar. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for another 15-30 minutes or until the fruit is soft.
Serve warm and enjoy!
Vareno Jhito (boiled wheat berries)
If you find yourself in a wheat farm during July or August, walk up to a wheat plant and gently pull out some kernels. Try them – they are so wholesome and sweet!
½ pound wheat berries
⅓ cup honey
½ cup raisins
½ cup crushed walnuts
1 grated lemon peel
Soak the wheat berries in cold water for 24 hours, or at least overnight. Drain the water, and put the wheat berries in a pot. Add water until it is 1 inches above the wheat berries. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until the berries are soft, but not mushy.
Check often to make sure the water has not evaporated too soon. Add more water in that case.When the wheat berries are ready, take the pot off the stove and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Leave everything in the pot or transfer to another container. Make sure it is tightly covered and let it rest overnight in a cool place.