IMG_5172These little ‘Zuccherini’ biscuits hail from Romagna and are another donation from my friend Olivia who went on holiday to Ravenna a few weeks back. The makers, Modigliantica, have a rather nice selection of biscuits in their product range, and – tidings of great joy for the lactose-intolerant – they all seem to be dairy-free. Like most Italian biscuits I’ve had the pleasure of sampling, these are drier than their British counterparts but sweet and subtly flavoured and an excellent accompaniment to your morning coffee. In fact these biscuits are partly made of coffee (the decorative ‘eye’ on top is a coffee bean and the specks in the mixture coffee grounds). Altogether a lovely little biscuit then.

Octopus marginalia, 15th-c Italy

The name ‘Zuccherini’ suggests sugary treats rather than the usual Italian word ‘biscotti’. (Incidentally, a lot of coffee chains in Britain use the plural ‘biscotti’ as singular, causing amusement to Italian speakers across the board.) I particularly loved the fact that no two of the Zuccherini look exactly the same in the packet, some of their ‘arms’ are evenly shaped and some aren’t but together they fill the gaps on the plate ingeniously, as you can see in the photo above. The biscuits themselves look a little like starfish or even octopuses given their vaguely octangular structure. And this in turn reminded me of Ave, Maris Stella, the popular medieval invocation to Mary as the Star of the Sea: an invocation which feels touchingly poetic, even if it may originally have come about through scribal error.

Still a keystone of Catholic prayers today, the Hail Mary is the opening of the angel’s greeting to the mother of Jesus in Luke’s gospel so I think it appropriate to borrow those words as the moral sentence for this biscuit. In this lovely post on the medieval poetry and imagery of the Annunciation, one of today’s clerks of Oxford reminds us how such art ‘tends to emphasise the quiet, private, gentle nature of this encounter’ and that the stillness of such images is a good antidote to the noisy chatter of the internet. Mary’s trusting response also reminds me of the wisdom of Isaiah, who provides another whisper of Christmas in Advent’s Waiting Room: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’

Further Delectation

Reclaim a bit of calm in the Christmas rush with Monteverdi’s Ave Maris Stella, ideally with coffee and biscuits…

Feast your eyes on the vibrant stillness of one of Fra Angelico’s beautiful Annunciations:


Fed up of all this Christmas nonsense? Find yourself a solid Parliamentarian paper for all the latest on England’s Civil War (warning: contains early modernism and politics.)

Increase your capacity for wonder by befriending an Octopus. If you would like to see more entries more regularly and help keep this bestiary free of ads, you are welcome to contribute to the Biscuit Jar

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