My favorite of all Catalan holidays. Even better than the one that involves champagne, fireworks and pastries. Dia de St. Jordi is sort of comparable to our Valentine’s Day, except far richer in history, culture, lore, accuracy, and passion. So please indulge me with a ridiculously long post-holiday posting. :D
The real joy of it for me, though, is in the food! In addition to all the adorable festivities in Barcelona, all the bakeries and delis carry red-and-yellow-striped food, like the Catalan flag (or senyera). So I of course took this as a challenge to combine my love of cooking with my love of decorative edibles.
I’m not a whiz with Catalan food yet (despite Jen’s awesome birthday gift of a Catalan cookbook), plus I wanted to leave room for creativity. So I tried to stick mostly to foods that were Spanish or at least kinda Mediterranean. (And I botched the one truly Catalan thing I tried for — authentic allioli, in case you’re curious — but we *did* have Catalan cava on the table.) I started off with the pasta salad pictured above, which consisted of saffron ourzo, feta cheese, basil, cherry tomatoes (red and yellow, of course) and bacon.
I then moved on to a couple different types of bruschetta-like tapas, similar to bar food in the Basque country (but better). The first ones, pictured above, were stripes of golden and regular beet purÃ©ed with goat cheese and thyme. My next set of tapas were wilted arugula covered in roasted red and yellow peppers cooked escalivada-style (a Catalan specialty). Then, I included strips of beef tenderloin over grilled polenta. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the hummus appetizer with sundried tomato stripes and red and yellow peppers for dipping!
And the dessert, while somewhat unimpressively purchased at Whole Foods, was still pretty fun to assemble. And everything looks swell on my gorgeous cake stand, so that was a cinch. I have to say, I think my food put some of the bakery windows in Barcelona to shame! All in all, it made for an excellent scene.
So now that you know about the food part, which is largely my own invention, let’s see if I can get the backstory and traditions right (and you can check it here if you wish).
Long ago, in a tiny Catalan village (so they say), there was a dragon that terrorized the population. He’d swoop in out of nowhere and devour their livestock, and occasionally their people. So a lottery was put into place: every month, a random person would be sacrificed to the dragon, in order to broker peace for the rest of the town.
One month, the princess’s name was drawn. The townspeople protested, insisting that they couldn’t allow her to be devoured. But she insisted that it was the right thing to do, and marched off into the field to get consumed by the great Drac. Enter St. Jordi (George), on his shining white horse! He drew his sword and slay the mighty dragon to rescue the fair princess.
Blood poured from the dragon’s wound, and from that spot on the ground there grew a red rose bush. St. Jordi gave the rose to the princess as a sign of his valor and love for her. So it became tradition in Barcelona, Aragon, and other parts of Catalonia for men to give women red roses on St. Jordi’s day to express their love. (And because the Catalan flag is red and yellow striped, it also became tradition to give yellow roses for friendship.)
Couple all that with the fact that on April 23, in the year 1616, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare both allegedly died. So the holiday has also come to mean a celebration of literature, which evolved into a tradition of giving books as gifts. And lastly, since St. Jordi is the patron saint of Barcelona and many other cities and provinces in Catalonia, it’s a day of displaying your Catalan pride by flying a senyera wherever you can.
I’m a sucker for all this stuff. In Barcelona, the Ramblas are covered in book and flower vendors, with tables draped in red and yellow. Famous authors often come out to sign their books on that day, and the whole city is just caught up in lovey-dovey red-and-yellow joy. They’re so much more enthusiastic than we are about our shitty corporate-invented holidays, and I just adore it!
This is the first year I’ve actually remembered to really try and celebrate it back in the US. It’s no plane ticket to Barcelona, but for now it’ll have to do! (The real test is when I send this link to Mar, and she corrects all my inaccuracies in the comments. Here’s hoping she does it in Catalan so you’re none the wiser, Imaginary Readers.) Moltes grÃ cies once again for indulging me!