February is the month for lovers!
Did you know that among the Bulgarians, the main tree for love and marriage is the apple? This is one reason it’s part of wedding rituals. The fruit is an ancient symbol of abundance, health, and fertility, and apples are said to have the power of love.
Apples play a role in Bulgarian courting and marriage rituals. At a secret sedyanka (half-working, half-party evening gatherings between young people), young women of marriable age performed many rituals. The last one of the evening was to attach apples to a wooden apparatus used to wind wool and twirl it around as a way to encourage young men to twirl around the girls. After this, the young woman would give her apple to a young man of her choice.
At weddings, an apple covered with gold foil topped the wedding banner as a sign of fertility. In addition, an odd number of apples (also covered with gold foil) were stuck into branches of the branches of the wedding tree (kum’s tree), which could be the crown of a small tree, a bush branch, a forked stick, or a distaff.
Other wedding customs involving apples were that an apple was placed in water in which the bridegroom washed. Afterwards, the apple was brought to the bride’s home and placed in water she would use to wash her hair. After the wedding, the couple would eat their first official meal as a married couple at the bride’s home. This could involve feeding each other apples and lumps of sugar.
Rituals with apples even continue after the wedding. In some areas, the bride is brought into a garden that has an apple tree. Three boys will throw her veil onto the tree. The woman’s brother-in-law puts three reds apples into a bag he brought with him that holds the bride’s wedding shirt as a symbol that healthy children will be born to her.
Apples also are believed to bring children to couples who have trouble conceiving as the story below demonstrates.
Mary and Golden Apples
In Christian lore, Mary once planted three trees that produced golden apples. She entrusted them to Michael to guard. These golden apples play a role in fertility rites in the church of the Dormition of Mary (The Golden Apple) in Gorni Voden in southern Bulgaria. People say the icon of Mary holding a golden apple produces miracles for women unable to bear children. One local story tells of a bed-ridden woman who was unable to go to church to pray to Mary for a child. She asked relatives to light candles for her and to give Mary an apple as a gift. Soon afterward, the woman recovered from her illness and became pregnant.
Childless women or married couples often make pilgrimages to the church and perform rituals to enable them to conceive. Mary’s icon is decorated with apples and wreaths made of leaves from an apple tree. The priest first reads a prayer for childbirth, then the man and woman eat an apple, divided between them.
Rebecca’s Mom’s Apple Pie
Apples also remind me of my mom’s apple pie baking. It was great to eat hot or cold. I haven’t made one in a while, but I scrounged through my box of recipes until I found it. The cold days ahead are a good time for baking and reminiscing.
You can use the premade pie crust from stores, if you want. You’ll need two: one for the bottom and one for the top. I always prefer to make mine from scratch, however. They are so much flakier and tastier than the store ones.
This makes enough for the top and bottom.
2 cups flour
3/4 cups shortening
4 Tablespoons cold water
*Mix flour and shortening together with a pie crust maker until flaky.
*Add the cold water and continue mixing until it forms a thick paste.
*Divide into two and roll out each piece until it’s large enough to place into a 9-inch pie plate. Place one sheet onto the bottom. It’s okay if it overflows the edges some. You’ll trim that off later.
*Take a fork and prick the pie crust. (I do a circle of about 5 around the bottom, 1 in the middle, and more around the sides.)
6 to 8 apples (I normally use Cortland, but you can choose others for more or less sweetness. Harder apples will take longer to cook.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon corn starch
Cinnamon (to taste)
Dash of lemon juice
*Peel, core, and slice into about 1/2-inch wedges 6 to 8 apples.
*Combine the other ingredients and pour on top of the sliced apples.
*Shake the bowl until the ingredients cover the apple slices.
Pour the apples onto the pie crust. Top them with chunks of butter.
Fold the second pie crust in half and lay it lay it over the apples from the middle. Gently unfold the other half to cover the pie.
Trim both edges of the crust, either to the edge of the pie plate or leaving a little extra (since the crust will shrink some as it bakes). Crimp the two together all the way around the pie. Use a fork to then squash them down.
Prick the top of the crust with a fork, the same as you did the bottom.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes (until it bubbles). You may want to put some kind of foil pan beneath it, since it’s sticky and makes a mess.
Bake an additional 15 minutes at 400°F (to brown the top).
Alternately, you can use a baster to spread can milk over the top of the crust to make it brown.
Eat warm with ice cream or let cool and top with whipped cream, and enjoy a favorite treat!
Sources are from our book Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore and our upcoming book, Magical Healing Trees in Slavic Folklore, which you can find on our Kickstarter that will launch in May. Don’t forget to also check out other Kickstarter campaigns that are part of the Storyteller Oracle Deck project.
Original source of “Mary and the Golden Apples,” which appears in Light Love Rituals: Baeva, Vihra, “A Local Cult, a Universal Symbol: The Golden Apple in Gorni Voden, Southern Bulgaria,” Our Europe, Ethnography – Ethnology – Anthropology of Culture, Vol. 2/2013, pp. 73-88, http://www.ptpn.poznan.pl/Wydawnictwo/czasopisma/our/OE-2013-073-088-Baeva.pdf.
The month of February, you can also find many Kickstarter campaigns on “Kickstarter is for Lovers” promo.