I live in the south-west of Bulgaria, in a town called Kyustendil, for those of you who were unaware. I love my town for a variety of reasons, but one high on the list is the fact that Kyustendil is considered the “Cherry Capital” of Bulgaria… that might not be the official name, but now it is! When driving to Kyustendil during the early summer months, as soon as you begin your decent from the Konyavo mountains (if you are coming from Sofia) you will see small fruit vendors lining the road with their umbrellas, scales and crates of gorgeous cherries.
Everyone in the area has at least one to two cherry trees, but very often people have significantly more. You can see new trees being planted every year, especially recently with the funds from the EU. Some people sell vast quantities to cherry buyers who distribute them to Sofia and beyond or others choose to reap more of the profits by selling their own in smaller quantities. We are of the former group with our 200+ trees.
My first time being in Bulgaria during the cherry season was 2007. I was completely unaware that the trees on my street were primarily cherry. Who needs to go to Washington DC or Japan to enjoy cherry blossoms, they were lining my street. Once the cherries began to ripen, I noticed another peculiar habit that I would have not been exposed to if I was living in the States; people would graze on the cherries on the while walking down the street. Kids on the way home from school would jump towards the branches with the darkest and sweetest fruits, while the younger kids had to settle for the easier to reach branches with the slightly less sweet ones. I was hesitant to eat fruit that was growing on the street, it was just my mindset at the time, I had not quite made the connection of where food came from. It was mind boggling. Up until that point in my life, I had only had fruit off a tree when I went on an elementary school trip apple picking; this was a solitary occasion. I finally got up enough gusto to endulged while walking towards the center of town with my husband. He was snacking on cherries and djanki (Джанки), an unripened wild plum, while pestering me to just try some and I finally did, and immediately realized that these were the best cherries I have ever eaten in my life. I was hooked on street snacking!
Like most Bulgarian towns, they have many celebrations and in Kyustendil, we have an annual Cherry Festival. It is normally held during a weekend near the end of June. This year it was June 22nd and 23rd. It is a big tah-dah where many of the small villages that surround the town have unique cherry traditions, which they display during the festival.