Yablochniy Spas – Apple Savior Day – August 19th

Pretty much all agrarian societies have some version of a “First Fruits” celebration, where the products of the first harvest are presented as a religious offering. The Western Christian Church has long since abandon this practice, but the Eastern Orthodox sects have kept the tradition alive with the August 19th celebration of the Great Feast for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, also known as Apple Day in Honor of the Savior (Yablochniy Spas). It is one of three Russian Orthodox holidays celebrated in August, and in my opinion the one with the best food options.

By the time Christianity arrived in Russia, near the end of the 10th Century, there was already a highly detailed calendar of holy days and celebrations set by the Greeks. In the Mediterranean climate, where Christianity has it’s origins, the harvest blessing date was settled on August 19th to coincide with the celebration of the Transfiguration, most likely because that holiday came closest to the harvest time for the two major local crops, grapes and wheat. The Russian climate didn’t support a late August harvest of these crops, so the blessing was broadened to include local fruit, which for Russians is apples in August.

Margaret McKibbon, President of American Friends of Russian Folklore generously shared a great deal of background on this holiday with me, it’s origins and most wonderfully a personal anecdote of a modern celebration:

“I was at a church in Belarus last summer [2011] for Yablochniy Spas… The church was in good repair, with lots of people of all ages attending.  Every family brought a basket  lined with a colorful woven or embroidered towel and filled with apples and other fruit, usually what was growing in their own gardens at home.  The baskets were tucked out of the way until the end of the liturgy, when the parishioners drew back to leave a central aisle clear with baskets on the floor lining it on both sides.  The priest then advanced down the aisle, repeating a blessing as he flicked blessed water with a  whisk over the baskets and the people.  After a closing prayer everybody picked up their baskets and headed for home, the old ladies serenely pedaling their bicycles down the road.

At home, our hostess carefully divided up the blessed fruit into portions for her friends and relatives who had not been at the service.  Much of the rest of the day was spent in paying visits and distributing the blessed fruit, which was always received with reverence  and gratitude.”

The Eastern Orthodox First Fruits tradition is more of a church blessing of the harvest, which is then shared with the community, rather than a tithe or sacrifice as the offering is in many other religions. This idea of sharing of the bounty makes for a great reason to gather your friends and family to celebrate the last, long days of summer. It is considered bad luck in Russia to eat apples before the Spas so this would be the first taste of apples for the year… so feel free to go apple crazy!IMG_1816

Menu

Apple Kvas
Zakusi
Chopped Herring Buterbrodi
Pickled Apples
Fresh Cabbage Salad with Apples and Sour Cream Dressing
Shashlik
Apple Sharlotka

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Pickled Apples

The short Summer growing season and loooonnnggg winter meant preserving foods was truly a matter of life or death in pre-Industrial Russia. It is a tradition that is still largely upheld today, even among urban Russians. A dacha or country house is a surprisingly common amenity for even middle class Russians. According to “Housing Studies: The Russain Dacha phenomenon” by Raymond J. Struyk and Karen Angelici About one in four big city families have dachas. While the “second homes” first came about as gifts to loyal vassals to Peter the Great, the Soviet Era saw a moderate boom in dacha-living, as many of the properties were nationalized and made into vacation homes for the working class. Spring and Summer are called “Dacha Season” and stores advertise sales for gardening equipment and other outdoor amenities. While they have become leisure retreats for many of the more affluent Russians, the memory of the Soviet Era food shortages coupled with a long standing cultural tradition of growing and preserving their own food means many people still invest in rigorous gardening at their dachas.

So when your dacha apple trees need harvesting or you have just finished plundering your neighbor’s apple tree, you will want to preserve some of the bounty for the barren months ahead.

This recipe is more of the immediate gratification solution. You can bring in the apple harvest from your dacha plot and have pickled apples in the same day!

I found this receipt at Portland Monthly Magazine courtesy of Gregory Goudet of Saucebox

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4 red apples
4 shallots, peeled, sliced thin
2 tbsp spice mix*
2 cups rice wine vinegar
2 cups sugar

(1) Wash and medium-dice apples.
(2) Place shallots in a container and cover with apples.
(3) Add spice mix to vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil.
(4) Pour mixture over apples and shallots.
(5) Cover with plastic wrap to keep everything submerged under liquid.
(6) Let cool at room temperature.

* Spice Mix

INGREDIENTS

8 cinnamon sticks
8 pieces star anise
12 cloves
1 tbsp cardamom
1 tbsp 
fennel seed
1 tbsp allspice

(1) Place all spices in a sauté pan and toast in a 375-degree oven until fragrant (about 10–15 minutes).
(2) Once cool enough to handle, grind in a spice grinder until fine.