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St George’s Day- the feast that requires meticulous preparation and culinary skills

Together with Easter, St. George’s Day (celebrated on May 6), is the biggest spring holiday in Bulgaria. It marks the beginning of the new farming season. Each Bulgarian family celebrates St. George’s Day with joy, regardless of whether some family members celebrate their name day or not.

Our ancestors associated St George’s Day with the awakening of nature, as well as with the smell of flowers, herbs and grass. That is why Saint George is regarded as a patron saint of shepherds and flocks and May 6 is the official holiday of farmers.

St. George is revered by both Christians and Muslims in Bulgaria. They make sacrificial lamb offering on that day to honor the saint. All relatives and family members sit around the festive table which consists of dairy products, spring onion and garlic, cheese and egg pastry (banitsa), boiled wheat, ritual bread, and lamb Drob Sarma (traditional Bulgarian meal containing lamb intestines, rice and herbs).

Roasted lamb is the main dish served at St George’s Day. It goes well with spring garlic and green salads, which grow in the gardens at that time of the year. Tradition has it that on this day people should celebrate outdoors or near a church, a chapel or a consecrated ground. They prepare mutton soup and women place ritual bread, banitsa and mozzarella cheese.

Today, we will again seek heavenly protection from St. George and prepare carefully the lamb meal for our festive table. Chef Penyo Ivanov has been cooking traditional festive meals for years. His first advice is to choose our meat supplier carefully.

“The lamb meat may be dangerous if it is not fresh, because some harmful substances form around the bone. That is why lamb is cooked longer – the long heat treatment kills all types of bacteria and pathogens”, Chef Ivanov notes in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. He presented his favorite lamb recipe for St. George’s Day- stuffed lamb shoulder:

“The stiffing contains vegetables and minced meat. You need to cut a pocket between the bone and the meat. Stuff the shoulder and cook it as you cook a whole chunk of meat. However, it is very important to use the right spices and herbs- garlic, parsley, rosemary, mint, fenugreek, etc. You decide how to combine the spices. The side dish is also very important when you prepare your lamb meal. It goes well with green salad made of lettuce and spring onions. We can find them all year round, but they are most delicious during the spring. You can also add boiled eggs, radishes and lemon juice to your fresh festive salad.”

It would be great if you grow your herbs in the garden or in a pot, says Chef Ivanov. The striving for cleaner food and healthy lifestyle made Chef Penyo Ivanov start living in a village. Working in his garden where he grows all types of herbs and vegetables makes him feel happy. His garden abounds with rocket leaves, basil, parsley and melissa, which will become part of his festive dish for St George’s Day.

English version: Kostadin Atanasov

Photos: private library, archive

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