Tag Archives: дренки

Back in the Summer of 1960, Part 2

Summer is winding down, but as a Kitchen Traveler you can always be on vacation. Here are a few more Bulgarian recipes from a long-passed summer. As in the last post, Bulgarian recipes of a certain era combine precise metric measurements with a trust that the cook somehow just knows what to do in the way of quantity or oven temperature. Is the “spoonful” a teaspoon or a tablespoon? Only the cook knows. How hot should the oven be? Only the cook knows. How long should the cookies be baked? Until they are done, of course.

And recommending the use of a lemon was pure fantasy since the home cook had no way in 1960 to find a lemon in the market and only once yearly—on the New Year’s holiday—were oranges to be found. The vanilla was and continues to be sold dry in packets, each one being roughly the equivalent of one teaspoonful liquid vanilla extract. By the way, the last line in the Drunken Peaches recipe is not my editorial, but is on the original recipe. Clearly, the recipe was well tested by the publisher.

But my favorite in all these recipes is the measurement provided for baking soda, “the edge of a knife soda for bread.”

Remember that no matter what the recipe includes or excludes, all jars of preserves should be boiled for ten minutes with the water level one inch above the lid before allowing them to cool and be stored.

Drunken Peaches

2 kg (4½ pounds) sugar
2-3 cups water
3 kg (6½ pounds) peaches, not too ripe, skins removed
½ liter (2 cups) grape rakiya

Simmer the sugar and water to form a thick syrup. Place the whole peeled peaches in the syrup. When the syrup returns to the boil, use a slotted spoon to remove the peaches and let them cool. Layer in jars peaches, a little of the syrup, and a little of the grape rakiya (or other fruit brandy), repeating until the jars are full. Cover with parchment paper and cap the jars tightly. Let mature 5-6 weeks. It has a good taste.

Дренки (pronounced “dren-key”) is the fruit of the cornel cherry, a relative of the dogwood. The fruit is small, red, and quite sour. The cornel cherry is native to Eastern Europe. When living in Bulgaria, I used it as a substitute for cranberries at Thanksgiving so you can probably do so the other way around if you wish to try out the recipe below and don’t happen to have a few cornel cherry trees handy.

сироп от дренкиCornel Cherry Syrup

2 kg (4½ pounds) cornel cherries
1 kg (4 cups) water
1½ kg (3¼ pounds) sugar
½ teaspoon citric acid (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice)

Mash the cornel cherries and leave them to ferment together with the pits for 24 hours. The next day, strain through a sieve, and then again through a cloth into a pot. Pour in water, add sugar, and boil until the mixture reaches the desired thickness. Add citric acid (or lemon juice).

татлииSyrup Pastries

¼ kg lard or butter
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons yogurt
2½ flour
½ kg (1 pound) sugar
2 cups water
vanilla or lemon rind

Cream lard or butter together with the egg yolk. Add the yogurt and flour. Mix until you have a soft dough from which you make walnut-sized balls. Lightly press them with a grater with which lemons are grated; arrange them on a greased baking sheet and bake. While still hot, pour over a syrup made by boiling sugar and water flavored with vanilla or lemon rind.

I translated “ванилички с мармалад” as vanilla sandwich cookies as they literally are called “little vanilla ones with marmalade.” Such an endearment provided the same translation challenge from Bulgarian as translating my brownie recipe from English for my Bulgarian friends.

ваниличкиVanilla Sandwich Cookies
with Marmalade

200 grams (7 ounces) butter
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
3 cups flour
1 egg
1 egg yolk
rind of 1 lemon
juice of ½ lemon
the edge of a knife baking soda
additional powdered sugar for rolling
2 packets vanilla powder

Cream the butter and sugar. When the butter is foamy, add the egg, egg yolk, lemond rind, lemon juice, and baking soda. Mix everything well until there is a smooth dough. Roll the dough to a thickness of ½ cm (just under ¼ inch) and use a rakiya glass to cut out circles, arranging them on a greased baking sheet. Bake in a hot oven until lightly browned. While still hot, stick them together two by two with marmalade or jelly. Roll them in powdered sugar, flavored with two packets of vanilla. It’s good if the sandwich cookies are left overnight in order to soften.

Quince can be very difficult to find even when seasonal, and upscale markets who do sell them do so at a price that this oft ignored sister of the apple family shouldn’t have to bear. Last fall, I had an outdoor market vendor stab the air and venomously accuse the quince of a blight that would kill her apple harvest. Putting even one or two peeled and cut up quince to a pot of applesauce adds flavor. If you can find a few pounds, quince jam is easy to make and store.

сладко от дюлиQuince Jam

1 kg (2¼ pounds) sugar
300 grams (1¼ cups) water
1 kg (2¼ pounds) quince, peeled and grated on the large size of a box grater
water to which 1 packet citric acid (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice) has been added
citric acid (or 2 teaspoons lemon juice)

Boil a syrup from the sugar and water. Into the hot syrup the prepared quince. In order that the peeled quince do not brown as you grate them, let them sit in the water and citric acid (or lemon juice). Boil the jam at high heat until the desired thickness. Before pouring into jars, add additional citric acid or lemon juice.



Thanksgiving, Денят на Благодарността

I have twice prepared a traditional Thanksgiving meal in Bulgaria, inviting our closest Bulgarian friends to our Денят на Благодарността celebration. It took not a little bit of planning. The difficult items were turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberries—and what would Thanksgiving be without them?


Turkey was the first problem. If I couldn’t find turkey, I would have to give up the whole project. It’s not hard to find turkey in Bulgaria around Christmas, but virtually impossible one month prior. The first time, I found a tiny butcher on the corner of Graf Ignatiev and Malyovitza. This particular butcher shop had been closed much of the summer and I had never entered it before due to the smell emanating from it when it finally did open. The mother of one close friend avoided it and referred to the dour-faced middle-aged men inside as “the boys.” But the boys were able to supply me with enormous turkey legs imported from Italy (or so they said), frozen to an Artic degree. After considerable time defrosting them, they spent considerable time being brined. They were delicious with sage gravy and stuffing, but the following year Plamen of the tiny grocery next door to our building found fresh turkey legs from a more reputable and hygienic source.


Potatoes have been cultivated throughout Europe for over four centuries, but sweet potatoes have not despite originating in precisely the same place the Spanish conquistadores found the many varieties of regular potatoes. The U.S. is now exporting sweet potatoes to Europe, but they remain hard to find. I finally located a small supply in Picadilly, gritting my teeth against the frighteningly high cost of what I had always considered an inexpensive staple.


I roasted them with garlic and sage (what the Bulgarians refer to as градински чай). Bulgarians don’t cook with sage. Instead it is applied as a poultice, gargled, or drunk as an infusion to cure the usual confounding variety of ills assigned to every medicinal herb (e.g., festering wounds, rashes, angina, toothache, ulcers, diarrhea, and so on). The Bulgarians at the table dutifully tried the unusual potato and wondered at the resemblance to pumpkin. Perhaps the sweet potatoes weren’t worth the bother and expense in the end, but we enjoyed them all the same along with the more easily available green beans with lemon and pine nuts.


Cranberries were a real dilemma at first, but I realized that the easily available дренка (cornel cherry) would make a splendid substitute. And just across the street from “the boys” were village women who sat on empty crates and sold the cornel cherries they harvested on walks just outside their villages. With the market full of apples and pumpkins, the traditional pies were easy to make.

Франклин посреща гости

I was thankful then to have my family, to live in Bulgaria once again and this time with our children, to share the prototypical American holiday with our Bulgarian friends. I was even able to find in площад Славейков, the large outdoor book market in the heart of Sofia, a copy of the children’s book Франклин посреща гости, the Bulgarian version of Franklin’s Thanksgiving by Paulette Bourgeois. And I’m thankful now that Bulgaria, its people and culture, have become an inseparable part of my life. We celebrated a part of America there, we celebrate in the U.S. Bulgarian holidays like Baba Marta in March and Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day in May. Happy Thanksgiving. Честит Ден на Благодарността.