Latvian Beciņas

The very generous Dr Davis has been foraging for biscuits again and this month we have two exciting new specimens from the Baltic States, both of which resemble mushrooms. On opening this parcel I did wonder if he had picked them straight from the forest but the great clerks of the internet helped me identify them as Beciņas ar šokolādes micītē (mushrooms with chocolate caps).

IMG_1723 The sponginess of the stalks and firmness of the caps reminded me of Jaffa Cakes although they look a bit different. The root of the stalk is dipped in chocolate and poppy seeds and they really are delicious with coffee. If you’re wondering how they get their distinctive shape, they’re baked in special pans with mushroom-shaped moulds. I was excited to discover the Beciņas are a Latvian specialty and a work colleague tells me they have something very similar in Lithuania, albeit with white instead of dark chocolate.

IMG_1728With half of the country covered in woodland, walking and foraging in the forest is a popular Latvian past-time. The official mushroom picking season lasts from August to October although happily these specimens can be found all year long. For a whole week in July I looked forward to my mornings with coffee and Beciņas and foraging for a moral for this biscuit got me thinking about everything wild spaces have to offer us. 

waldinneresThis lovely painting of a forest glade is by German artist Ernst Ferdinand Oehme. Such scenes are called Waldinerres in German, which sounds a little like the Middle English Wyldrenesse or wilderness. Like the forests of medieval romance, the wilderness can be a place of refuge but also disorientation. A place where our old props and certainties are taken from us. This may feel bewildering (‘to be lost in pathless places, to be confounded for want of a road’) but as a friend of mine from the Wirral says it’s in the wilderness that God speaks. 

In one of the great medieval adventure poems of the fourteenth century, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain embarks upon a journey he never expected, accepting the deathly challenge of a mysterious green knight and riding deep into the ‘wyldrenesse of Wyrale’. I won’t give too much of the plot away — the whole story is worth reading and it’s marvellous — but it’s fair to say that what Gawain finds in the forest is not victory or defeat (or mushrooms) but a powerful dose of self-knowledge. In the process he also discovers that the knight waiting for him at the Green Chapel is not the dread opponent he thought but something far kinder and wiser and harder to fathom.

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Both in entering and easing out of lockdown it feels like we have all been plunged into a season of stillness, and whether that feels liberating or terrifying the silence has its lessons to teach us. Be still and know that I am God, Psalm 46 reads, and in stilling ourselves we invite that knowledge to fill us. In the forest. In the wilderness. In our own pathless places. In the pause in the middle of the morning for coffee and biscuits. 

Further Delectation

Another great Northern poet, Simon Armitage, introduces Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and you can read the poem in Middle and Modern English via Luminarium.
 
Can’t get to the outdoors right now? Take a virtual tour of Latvia’s lovely forests and castles.
 
This week’s magical Story from the Borders of Sleep. This latest podcast, written and narrated by Seymour Jacklin, is all about hermits, forests and the wisdom of green places.
 
Too busy for all this? You may need to ruthlessly eliminate hurry. Here’s some help to make a start on it.
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Iced Garden Biscuits

It was my birthday again last month and given the lockdown situation I really hadn’t any expectations for it beyond loafing around on the roof terrace in the sun. So it was a lovely surprise to receive this box of biscuits from my Mum – and not just any box of biscuits but these hand-iced masterpieces from the Biscuiteers Baking Company, a bright star of the biscuit scene in London.

IMG_1695 2.JPGAs you can see, these ‘homegrown’ biscuits are garden themed and, like the masterpiece of creation itself, full of that beauty and attention to detail that marks the work of a true craftsperson. So beautiful in fact it was hard to bring myself to eat them but I made a start with the trowel on the grounds that it had got a little cracked on its way out of the box. Having shovelled the first one in (chocolate shortbread, delicious) I decided to give  it a bit of welly, and after that… Well, I was quite proud of myself for making them last more than a week in the end. Whatever recipe they use for their biscuit base, it’s built to last.

IMG_1765I’ve written before about the Parable of the Sower. It’s one of the best known stories of the gospels and one of the few parables where Jesus provides a gloss on the meaning for his audience: the seeds are the words of God and the soil is the hearers’ hearts, which may at times be soft or stony, choked by weeds or eager for new life. It’s also a picture of what happens at the very beginning of God speaking to us: a seed, a thought, takes hold and with it a little glimmer of hopefulness. A promise of growth to come.

IMG_1707This week I came across a further application of the story I think the medieval clerks would have approved of: what do we do when the seed of something wonderful drops into our lives? It might be a new idea, creative vision, word of faith or moment of insight. What part can we play in helping it thrive?

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Wellcome Library MS L0027234

Light and water, space and shelter, vigilance and tenderness, patience and encouragement. Keeping on believing, waiting and trusting until you see the new thing springing up… The laws of nurturing the spiritual life aren’t that different to those of the organic one, really. In yet another great gardening parable, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed planted in the ground:

It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants: it grows long branches and birds can make nests in its shade…

The Kingdom of God is like that, he says. It may start small but it grows!

Further Delectation

Shameless promotion of the Biscuiteers’ wares. While away a pleasant hour admiring their decorative arts.

Still in lockdown or bored of your new fangled garden? Here’s a no-nonsense approach to designing a medieval one.

My friend Amy alerted me to this erudite blog post from English Heritage on biscuits past. Something to savour after your gardening’s done?

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Macarons

To my mind, the Macaron (or French Macaroon if you want to be all English about it) is a bit like a Jaffa Cake in that opinions differ as to whether it’s a biscuit or not. You’ll be in no doubt this bestiary comes down firmly on the biscuit side of the argument from the existence of this entry, but on reflection it might be more strictly categorised as bakers’ confectionary (biscuit class). Previously I’d seen it as my calling to consume rather than concoct these lovely little creatures, but then around Easter I received the following kit from my sister grâce à the Honeywell Biscuit Company:

93818632_10158313733984859_6053972565121040384_oTruth be told I’ve had a bit of a thing for Macarons ever since a visit to one of Pierre Hermé‘s stores in Paris on a day that just turned out to be le jour du Macaron (a proof of providence if ever there was one). The high almond content made me hopeful this biscuit might be medieval in origin and legend has it that its first appearance was in the monasteries of medieval Venice, but the most exciting chapter in its history came when Catherine de Medici took the recipe to France, where it was eventually refined into the delicate sandwich form and produced in every colour and flavour the heart could desire. 

Nowadays the Macarons’ perfect roundness, evenness and sheer melt-in-the-mouth gorgeousness make them a pleasure of the highest order and what a feast of colour they provide for the eyes! I’m particularly in awe of those master bakers who excel at making them as they’re difficult to get right. I might not have plucked up the courage to try the kit at all were it not for a friend dropping some of her experiments round. Ellie has been perfecting the art of macaron-making during lockdown:

IMG_1610My kit from the Biscuit Company included a couple of icing tubes to pipe chick faces onto the Macarons after assembling them, but I decided not to make things too complicated for myself on my first try. I got off to a good start with the filling (butter icing and homemade lemon curd) but a rookie error in placing one tray of Macarons on the wrong side of the baking sheet which cost me in presentation later. Dropping the tray on the floor was the best bit – apparently it helps with eliminating air pockets – but the macarons still emerged from the oven a little cracked. What they lacked in texture they made up for in taste, however. The ‘shell’ was just a few millimetres thick, the ‘white’ beautifully light and tender, and the ‘yoke’ even softer and richer with that lemony burst at its heart.

IMG_1673The Macaron is a biscuit of great taste and beauty, but it’s also incredibly delicate – a delicacy in every sense of the word. Thinking about its fragility, I’m moved to reflect on the way the unwelcome intrusion of the pandemic into our everyday lives has ushered in a season in which we’ve become acutely aware of our own vulnerabilities and not just to the virus. For some it might be the ability to earn a living, preserve a peaceful home or stave off loneliness with face-to-face contact; the challenge of having too much time on your hands or paradoxically not enough. For many the membrane between our work and home lives has become a lot thinner now colleagues Zoom us from their kitchens and public figures speak to us from their at-home studies, often with family members drifting in and out. It can be hilarious but also homely and humbling to have this glimpse into each other’s domestic lives. A daily reminder that we’re all human with or without our public faces on.

These thoughts could easily lead into a meditation on the instability of life as depicted in the great wisdom literature of the bible, but many of us have already been wrestling with these lessons over the last few weeks and months. Instead I’m drawn to the comforting words about Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, quoting from the prophet Isaiah:

He will not crush a bruised reed or put out a flickering candle…

Tenderness towards the bruised and struggling has always been part of God’s mission and character. One positive outcome of the present time would be if as a society we learnt to be more compassionate and protective of the vulnerable, fragile places in ourselves and others.

Further Delectation

These days before Ascension Day are rogation days in the Church’s old calendar and you can read about them in the Clerk of Oxford’s blog here. It’s a time to bless the land, which seems peculiarly apt this year when in the quiet of lockdown nature has been such a blessing to those who are able to get outside to appreciate it.

May always feels such a medieval month and here’s another interesting piece by Michael Warren on medieval birds and birdsong. If you’re into medieval literature, you might like to pair it up with a reading of Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls.

For anyone living alone or feeling alone right now, you might enjoy this beautiful recording of Sheppard’s Libera Nos (Deliver Us) by The Sixteen, which must be one of the loveliest things to come out of lockdown. Lots of love.

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Almond Thins

I first realised all this panic-buying was getting serious when I got a phone call from the biscuit aisle of our local Sainsbury’s. The shelves weren’t completely empty, my housemate told me, but it was slim pickings. We both laughed incredulously as she listed the few types of biscuit the other shoppers had left us. In the end I went with these Almond Thins:

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C. was shopping for me because like many people in our part of South London, I’d had to self-isolate with coronavirus symptoms. I still can’t be sure what I experienced was the virus but several days of odd fiery fevers and chest issues make it likely, and poor Southwark has been hit very hard. Both the sickness and isolation have felt like a battle at times and I was lucky my symptoms were relatively mild. We’re not really used to sweating it out through long periods of feverishness, which would have been a much commoner feature of life in medieval times. The night the worst of the fevers broke I woke to blessed stillness to hear a bird singing outside my window and just at that moment it was the loveliest sound in the world.

Another milestone of recovery was the return to coffee and biscuits. I might never have discovered the all-buttery consolations of the Almond Thins were it not for the present crisis, just as I might never have discovered the goodness and faithfulness of so many people in my life if I hadn’t been ill. From both far and near, friends and family have prayed for me, messaged me, cooked for me, brought me food or paracetamol and just generally cheered me on through the days I’ve felt anxious or vulnerable. The last few weeks may have been short on biscuits but they have been very rich in love.

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Walking round the neighbourhood on my daily constitutionals it’s good to see signs of hope and solidarity, from the cheery messages on local businesses to the brightly painted rainbows in children’s houses inspired by the andrà tutto bene pictures in Italy (a motto Julian of Norwich would have loved). Yes, we’re all still reeling from the disruption to our old patterns of life, but it helps that we’re in this together and so many people are finding creative ways of reaching out to one another even when we’re physically apart.

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From BL Royal 20 C V

Plague is one experience no sane person would ever want to share with the Middle Ages yet here we are exposed to what would have seemed a very medieval anxiety once. Familiar works like Everyman, the Danse Macabre and even the Divine Comedy were all shaped by the necessity of navigating death someday, though to Christians it was never an end but a doorway. The whole Memento Mori tradition, often seen as morbid in our own time, was meant to help people live more purposefully in the here and now. 

Part of this hard-won wisdom is learning to separate the things that matter from the things that don’t matter. Saving lives matters more than leaving the house whenever we want to and we’ve a new appreciation of the value of many ‘low-skilled’ jobs. Many of the things that preoccupied us a few weeks ago have come to seem trivial, old grudges not worth holding on to. Minor irritations and inconveniences are put in their proper place. ‘Stay safe’ is the new ‘Kind regards’.

Souls are like athletes writes Thomas Merton, and this Lent it feels like we’ve all been given our own marathons to run. Yes, our lives will never be the same again, and for a time they may feel thinner and more constricted, but at the end of this I pray we’ll emerge richer in ways we can’t see right now. “I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers,” the apostle John wrote in one of his letters and this is my prayer for us all in the coming months.

Further Reflection

So many medieval writers offer comfort in times of trouble and sickness. These last weeks I’ve been drawing from Julian of Norwich (Malcolm Guite’s post on her work might be a good way in if you haven’t read her) and, in a later age, John Donne. Texts available free with other out-of-copyright works from Project Gutenberg.

Has the plague closed your theatre? Many wonderful institutions have been releasing content to help us keep our spirits up through the lockdown. Thursday night is now theatre night thanks to the National Theatre. You can also visit a museum from your living room, listen to beautiful music from the Berliner Philharmoniker or watch an opera streamed from the Met in New York.

Make a call. Write a letter. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There’s so much we can do to support each other even from a distance, so keep on reaching up and out.

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From BL Stowe MS 955, Le Petit Livre d’Amour

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Czech Poppy Seed Biscuits

My amazing Czech friend has been baking again, although these excellent specimens aren’t a traditionally Bohemian biscuit but a recent recipe from a Czech magazine. Makovky can be translated as little poppy seed biscuits and these come with a nice sticky centre of lemon curd. Crushed poppy seeds are a common ingredient of Czech baking and give the biscuit dough its marble-like appearance here. Maybe it’s all the scalloped edging, but to me there’s something baroque about their elegance such that they wouldn’t seem out of place on the dressing table of an eighteenth-century belle (or indeed the coffee table of a twenty-first-century one!)

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It took me a while to think of an appropriate sentence for the Makovky but their flower-like appearance reminded me of that passage on combating worry in the Sermon on the Mount: Consider the lilies of the field. In medieval Europe the lily flower or fleur-de-lis was the heraldic emblem of the French crown as well as having more general associations with the purity of the Virgin Mary, which is why images of the annunciation often include a lily or background of lilies.

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Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are…

Jesus uses the illustration of the lilies rather differently in his sermon. Knowing how prone we humans are to fret about the many things we can’t control, he asks his hearers to stop, look and listen to all the signs of life humming around them, to consider the flowers of the field (or scattered about the hard shoulder of the motorway or pushing their tiny heads through the urban concrete sprawl) and what their brief lives tell us about the one who made them.

…and if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

It’s a good question. Sometimes I feel our peace of mind is continually being sabotaged by the pace of modern life, our own worries for the future and the anxieties that fuel the news — but the more our thought-lives centre on these fears, the more power they have to rob us of our joy and equilibrium. Faith can feel like an impossible ask when worries intrude, which is why taking time out to fill our minds with healthier, happier things is vital. And as we do, we find that faith is less something we have to work up than a trust we’re invited to relax into. Consider the lilies of the field

Further Delectation

Consider more lilies (and medieval reading culture) in these medieval annunciation scenes or read up on the history of the fleur-de-lis and its role in heraldry.

It’s the perfect time of year for creative biscuit making and the BBC Good Food site has a wealth of easy creative recipes.

Consider the rich and vibrant colour-scapes of this medieval annunciation from the Netherlands (from the met museum) notable for its careful observation of plant life:

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Ballerina Biscuits

Appropriately enough given its Norse associations, late November’s biscuit is the gift of a cat called Master Loki and comes to us fresh from the bracing climes of Norway, a favoured holiday destination of Master Loki’s staff. The name of this species is Ballerina and it won’t surprise you to know that the word means the same thing in English as Norwegian or that it is on long-term loan to us from the Italians, who are generous like that. In its size, compactness and solidity the Ballerina has much in common with the popular biscuit brands of Britain, but with one intriguing difference that makes it a paradox of biscuit design: its two very different sides. Here’s the recto:

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And here’s the verso:

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As you can see, this is less yin and yang than Pushmi-Pullyu or perhaps two mass-produced biscuits for the price of one. Not that my tastebuds were at all put out by the incongruity, but intellectually I couldn’t quite grasp the reason for combining these two apparently unrelated designs.

The reason for the name also intrigued me and with a bit of imagination the recto side does look a bit like a tutu. Here’s a little reminder of what other famous ballerinas get up to from the wonderful Gina Storm Jensen, a Norwegian dancer who performs with the Royal Ballet:

Like their biscuity namesakes, human ballerinas combine two excellent characteristics you don’t often see operating together elsewhere: grace and strength. It takes sensitivity and understanding of the way the body moves through space to be able to create motions this exquisitely graceful, and it takes many hours of work to build up the levels of fitness and stamina needed to hold each position and execute each step with precision and care.

It feels like grace and strength of a less visible kind are badly needed in our world at present. ‘Patient endurance is what you need right now,’ counsels the writer to the Hebrews and I think it’s good advice for us. It’s so easy to be caught off balance when temptations to irritation, weariness and worry seem to be coming at us from so many angles. Stepping carefully through the trying days, especially when we are feeling tired or provoked in our spirits, can be a challenge, but I’ve never seen the value of holding our positions with strength and grace quite so much.

Further Delectation

Here for the dancing but having trouble keeping your balance? Try the Biscuit Ballerina – with a cup of tea and a smile.

Learn how to step carefully through the world the medieval way… (a German academic shows us how it’s done!)

The loveliest medieval poem I know of about a little white cat (trans. Seamus Heaney).

Interested in the early Norwegians? Eleanor Barraclough writes about the Vikings as travellers, raiders, converts and chameleons in History Today (the image below is from a C14th MS reproduced there).

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Bredele

This week’s star biscuit is from the Alsace region of France and a present from my sister and brother-in-law who were holidaying in Colmar. The name, Bredele, means something like ‘little breadies’ in English and sounds more Germanic than Gallic in origin which makes sense given how close Alsace is to the border. The smooth, slightly convex topping looks a bit like a macaron to the casual observer but the consistency is tougher and the biscuit itself very dry and sweet and light. These anisbredele are particularly noticeable for their strong hit of aniseed (green aniseed according to my French colleague). Here they are perched on a windowsill in the office next to their elegant gift bag:

IMG_1184Bredele are treat biscuits enjoyed as Christmas cookies or petits four in France. The earliest recipes date back to fourteenth-century Strasbourg so they come with an excellent medieval pedigree also, but I have to admit I’ve only had one or two so far as liquorice is one of the few flavours I genuinely can’t abide. (This is an eccentricity of my own though and I’m pleased to say they’ve been popular with office mates who don’t share my prejudices!)

fullsizeoutput_8bfIn settling on a medieval-style sentence for the bredele, I couldn’t help remembering the famous line in the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I doubt the most free-wheeling translator has ever stretched this into daily bredele, but the idea leads to an interesting question: is it OK to ask God for the little things as well as the big?

While it’s possible to under-think prayer maybe the greater danger comes from over-thinking it and in our efforts not to be childish in our prayer requests we can forget to be childlike as Jesus taught. In the gospels he tells his disciples to bring their needs to God as simply and directly as little children to their father and to trust that he is better than the best of human parents and intimately concerned with the smallest details of our lives. This may come as a surprise to those more used to relating to God as Our Emergency Service that Art in Heaven, but it invites us to a conversation about our evolving needs and yearnings with a father who loves to give us good things when we ask.

Further Delectation

Here for the bredele? You can find an aniseed-flavoured bredele recipe here or a  general recipe here for those less fond of aniseed. The clerks and historians can also read about all things bredele-y at bredele.fr

Be a source of delight to others: if you’re lucky enough to be able to bake or buy your own biscuits, you might consider giving some to food banks this autumn. It can make a child’s day when you donate biscuits as well as the usual staples (a good way to be an answer to someone else’s prayers!)

Check out these medieval bakers in a French breviary from the early 1500s. This illustration is for the month of December so perhaps they’re busy making Christmas biscuits (following the astrological calendar, it also sports a fantastical goat in a shell…)

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Franska Vafflor

It’s been a long, long time since our last biscuit. Five weeks to be exact but the good news is that the fast is soon to be followed by a feast of new entries from the continent. First, these wonderful Franska Vafflor from Olivia, a Danish-made biscuit whose name translates as French Waffles. As I haven’t been able to find an equivalent biscuit in France I’m wondering whether these waffles stand to France as English muffins to England. These ones are sandwiched with vanilla cream and are the closest thing to a doughnut I’ve ever had in biscuit form. The outer layers have the texture of crisp fried pastry and while they taste very nice indeed I recommend you stop after three to avoid a sugar rush.

IMG_1160.JPGThe abundant richness and sweetness of the Vafflor feels especially appropriate for this day in the Anglican Church’s Calendar, in which we celebrate a man who is perhaps the sweetest of all seventeenth-century writers, Thomas Traherne. I first met him through his Centuries of Meditations, which are full of passages like this one:

“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world. Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world…”

Reading the meditations feels like escaping from the smog of the big city into the open country on a clear autumn night. Almost at once you’re breathing easier and seeing further, instead of crowded trains or cramped ceilings the roof above you is a net of stars. And you feel again what a strange and wonderful thing it is to be alive and to have a little seat as a sentient spectator in the theatre of this vast, sprawling, mind-dazzling universe (you see, it’s catching…) Traherne’s writings are suffused with his awareness of a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’, to quote the apostle Peter. Centuries on, his attempts to speak of that glory can still move us now.

While the Centuries itself was never published in his lifetime, its theme of revelling in the joy of existence is the more remarkable when you consider its author’s upbringing amid all the dread, anxiety and upheaval of a Civil War. ‘A Christian is an oak flourishing in winter,’ Traherne writes, echoing the opening of the Psalter with its declaration that those who delight in God’s law are like trees planted by a river. You may have to dig deep for it, but the joy is still there waiting to be found.

Further Delectation

I can’t think of much more delectable than the Centuries themselves. You can read them for free here.

While I couldn’t find a recipe for Franska Vafflor these ones were made by Karen Volf.     (This Danish vanilla butter cookie recipe looks jolly nice too!)

And not forgetting the middle ages, here’s a little image of Bartholomew Anglicus contemplating the beauty of the world in BL MS Royal 17 E III:

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That’s all for this week, folks… Stay tuned for more biscuits in future.

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Dark Chocolate Gingers

In last Sunday’s evening service we were invited to try a short session of contemplative prayer with the help of an icon or a passage from the bible. Imagine my delight when the gentleman next to me rose to his feet and announced that he was moving to the back of the church to meditate on the biscuits. Which just goes to show you never know when a stranger might appear with a word from the Lord…

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Message (and messenger) by catapult. From the BNF MS of Jean de Wavrin’s histories of Britain.

For a while now I’ve been eager to meditate on Dark Chocolate Gingers. Border Biscuits make some particularly fine ones and as they’d previously always been available in my local supermarket it never crossed my mind that they might disappear from the shelves without notice. Having hunted and failed to find them elsewhere, I was all set to do a post on the Dark Chocolate Ginger Night of the Soul when my friend Cath found me a new brand from Sainsbury’s. Honesty compels me to admit these are Not-Quite-As-Dark Chocolate Gingers but the lower cocoa content is more than made up for by the thickness of the chocolate coating, not to mention its jaunty stripes.

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Sainsbury’s Dark Chocolate Gingers on a Roof Terrace in Peckham.

I’ve known biscuit lovers who dislike ginger, but I’ve always loved its pep and fieriness. The hospitable warmth of gingerbread is one of the great joys of Christmas and the McVities ginger nut (less fashionable than it used to be) gloriously dunkable with tea. Another brilliant ginger creation, Marks and Spencer’s stem ginger cookies, belongs in my mind to that stratosphere of gustatory pleasures in which you might enjoy a choice marmalade after a leisurely breakfast. The Dark Chocolate Ginger strikes me as more of a late morning luxury or happy after-thought to an evening meal. Ginger could be expensive in the Middle Ages and while not as sought after as pepper, it was valued for its medicinal benefits more than its culinary ones. A strong dose of ginger can be a shock to the system, but as a winter spice it can also be deliciously warming, healing and cleansing – like truth itself when it’s let loose on the world.

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August Bank Holiday cornfield near Tudeley-cum-Capel.

If ginger stands for truth, then chocolate and ginger together make a good advert for speaking the truth in love. Our ability to receive truth increases when we sense the truth-teller is not out to score points for themselves or condemnation for others but genuinely trying to find a path towards collective healing and freedom. This can be a hard path to follow when you’re feeling hurt and angry (or timid or selfish) but anything less is neither truthful nor loving in the long run.

Further Delectation

Spice up your life (or spruce up your knowledge) with this short survey of winter spices in the Middle Ages.

Enjoy George Herbert’s beautiful meditation on The Way, the Truth and the Life, the equally wonderful music of Vaughan Williams, and a singing monk lost in Grand Central Station:

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Grisbi Extreme Chocolate Cookies

Biscuits can be a lot like buses – after a dearth of specimens to sample I suddenly got three through at once. The first is from a new friend of mine called Dāvis, a fan of the bestiary in Latvia. I posted him some biscuits a few months ago to help him through his medical exams and he kindly returned the favour with these Grisbi Extreme Chocolate cookies from Matilde Vicenzi. These chunky flat Italian creations certainly live up to their name as they really are very chocolatey. The weather was so hot when I opened the packet I opted to try them out on the terrace with tea and ice cream…

IMG_0951While I don’t like ranking biscuits any more than people, I have to say this is chocolate of a high order and so rich it makes for the perfect dessert biscuit (more on that elusive genre at a later date). The gooeyness of the centre was an unexpected surprise, especially for an Italian biscuit as these tend to be dryer than the British sort. Anyone eyeing it from the outside could be forgiven for imagining it was the same texture all the way through and I must say I’m intrigued by the combination of outer crumbliness and inner creaminess its makers have managed to pull off.

IMG_0956For the moral I couldn’t help but think of the prophet Samuel’s words when choosing a new king for Israel: ‘People judge by outward appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Leaving aside the fact that the Lord’s choice, David, was apparently good-looking as well as goodhearted (some kings get all the luck), Samuel’s words are a sober reminder that what impresses on the surface does not necessarily make the best criteria for judging an individual’s worthiness or fitness for office.

I expect it’s almost as rare for a people to find a true leader as it is for God to find a man after his own heart, yet that is the astonishing epithet applied to David in the Bible. And as far as we can tell the forging of this extraordinary heart came about long before anyone but God knew who David was, in the long conversations they had together with no-one but the sheep to overhear them. We can eavesdrop a little on some of those conversations in the Book of Psalms, many of which are believed to have been written by the king over the course of his lifetime. Here’s an image of him in the throes of composition from an early 15th century Italian manuscript:

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Image from New York’s Met Museum

What’s refreshing about the David of the Psalms is his no-holds-barred abandon in expressing himself to God: every joy and confidence, every doubt and fear and angry thought let out into the wild and starry open. ‘Slap all my enemies in the face!’ he prays in Psalm 3, something we don’t sing in churches very much. We can admire a great soul like Gandhi for his commitment to non-violence, but David’s radical honesty about the state of his soul shows us something of what it means to have a great heart. Despite all his faults and failures, it’s hard not to love the David who mourned and the David who danced, the David who argued and pleaded and repented without caring what anybody thought of him. The David, above all, whose heart God saw and loved, and the David to whom he gave an everlasting kingdom.

Further Delectation

A lovely setting of one of David’s Psalms by John Michael Talbot.

Some beautiful medieval Psalters from the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

In need of a vaguely medieval laugh this week? Nothing to do with kings or biscuits, but here’s my favourite post from The Toast‘s Two Monks series on medieval bestiaries

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