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Cherry season in Kyustendil: A time for hard work and for a big festival

Photo: BGNES

Walking in the streets of Kyustendil in June is like taking a walk in a cherry orchard, surrounded by trees heavy with fruit. This is the town in Bulgaria, located in the foothills of Mount Osogovo and on the bank of Banshitsa River, where conditions are best suited for growing cherries, and it is the place they are grown in greatest abundance. To bring more attention to Kyustendil cherries – which as all Bulgarians know are the sweets, tastiest and juiciest cherries of all – Kyustendil municipality organize a Cherry Festival.

The festival has taken place in the town centre for 15 years, and displays an array of red and white cherry varieties grown in the region. Cherries are a source of genuine pride for the people of Kyustendil, no garden in the town is without at least one cherry tree. Cherry jam made of white cherries is a long-standing local tradition, and the locals say that if they have not made jam in the spring, they cannot rest assured for the winter. Cherries are also a feast for the eyes when they are arranged so skillfully, especially for the cherry festival, says Dimitrinka Ukalska from the Culture department of Kyustendil municipality, and adds that this year the festival will go on for three days – from the 24th to the 26th of June.

“Organizing the cherry festival is a difficult thing precisely because it takes place during cherry-picking season and the people in the town are very busy. It always falls on the last weekend of June when the biggest variety of cherries ripen here, in Kyustendil. The first fruit-growing exposition was held here in 1896, and this festival is its successor. Everything we do is a token of gratitude – for the fruit the land bears.”

The second day of the festival is the most important day of the event, with all kinds of competitions taking place - for the biggest cherry, the most original cherry picture, for cherry drawings and for the most beautiful veshelo. But what is a veshelo, which is only made in Kyustendil and which is such an attraction for tourists?

“You take a pair of cherries connected at the stem and twist them around a stick of wood to make a sort of cluster of cherries,” Dimitrinka Ukalska says. “It weighs over one kilogram and combines different varieties of cherries, so that besides a variety of colours, the veshelo alsooffers a variety of different flavours. But you have to go to Kyustendil during cherry-picking season to see just how hard-working and generous the people in these parts are, not to mention the natural assets to be found here all the year round, like fresh air, fertile soil and mineral springs.”

Besides cherry growers, different institutions also take part in the festival. The Agriculture Institute in Kyustendil, for example, has its own stall where, this year, it is displaying 10 cherry varieties, which it is banking on for a promising future. As to the entertainment side of the festival, it is the local chitalishta (community culture clubs) that are most active. The “Cherries in the kitchen” competition is for the true culinary pioneers, with the Kyustendil cherry banitsa being the biggest hit from last year.

Photos: BGNES

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