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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Blueberry Ice Cream

From Cats and Casseroles
July is the month designated by the US Department of Agriculture to celebrate the native North American fruit, the Blueberry “with appropriate ceremonies and activities”. I think a Fourth of July, George Washington Ice Cream Social featuring Blueberry Ice Cream would qualify as an appropriate celebration, don’t you?

1 c. (half-pint) blueberries, rinsed and any stems removed
1/4 c. sugar
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. half-and-half
scant 1/2 c. sugar

1. In a small bowl, toss blueberries with 1/4 c. sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Keep refrigerated 2-3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.

2. Mash sugared blueberries in the bowl, using a fork. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together heavy cream and scant 1/2 c. sugar. Whisk in half-and-half. Add blueberries (and the syrup they’ve created) into cream mixture. Whisk for about two minutes.

Churn according to ice cream manufacturer’s instructions. Enjoy right away, or store in freezer in an air-tight container.

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Fresh Fruit

Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay described an August 1789 meal with the President and First Lady to include “…iced creams Jellies &ca, then Water Melons Musk Melons apples peaches nuts”

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Fresh fruit still has popular today at a summer party, especially with kids. A cool, juicy slice of melon is the perfect compliment to a hot burger or rich ice cream. I have a generous neighbor with a gorgeous, blooming apple tree. So, just like at Mount Vernon, I got to serve apples straight from the orchard!

Washington’s Friday Night Party Lemonade

from Dining with the Washingtons
This is believed to be the recipe that the Washington’s served at their Friday Night Summer Parties in Philadelphia and also at Summer gatherings at Mount Vernon. It is most likely the refreshment that Abigail Adams referred to be served along with her “ice creems”. I have the great fortune of having a lemon tree in my backyard, so I am constantly looking for ways to use lots of lemons. This is an exceptionally refreshing and delightful summer drink, and can be made with or without alcohol and be delicious either way. *It is important to note that there is a lot of zesting involved in this otherwise simple recipe…especially if you are making it for a large crowd.*

Juice and zest of 6 large lemons
4 1/2 cups water, divided, plus more as needed
1 cup sugar, plus more as needed. (The recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, but I found that to be way too sweet, one cup was plenty… possibly even less… so I say start with one add more if your taste desires it.)
2 cups medium-dry white wine (optional)
Juice of one orange

Put the zest in a medium saucepan, and pour in 2 cups of the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Stir in the lemon juice, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain and add enough of the remaining water and more sugar, if desired, to suit your taste.

Stir in the wine and orange juice, if desired, and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes about 6 and a half cups.IMG_1830