Dych chi’n hoffi bisgedi? After a little break over the summer I’m delighted to introduce these Bisgedi Ceirch (Oaty Biscuits) and Bisgedi Picau ar y Maen (Welsh Cake Biscuits) from Llanwrst in Denbighshire. Together they comprise Shepherd’s Welsh Biscuits, a range of biscuits developed by James and Natasha Shepherd and inspired by the history, character and flavours of Wales:
As you can see, I was rather taken by the dragons on the packaging and while there were only eight biscuits per box they are handcrafted, chunky specimens so a two biscuit serving fills you up. On first acquaintance I prefer the Bisgedi Ceirch which are surprisingly soft in texture with an oatiness that’s chewy rather than scratchy like a hobnob. The taste reminds me of shortbread, and they certainly live up to the Shepherds’ description of them as rugged, oaty biscuits with a warming vanilla flavour. Good to eat all year round, but they’d be perfect in winter with a strong cup of char.
By contrast the Bisgedi Picau ar y Maen (Welsh Cake Biscuits) feel a lot denser with a fruity hit that really captures the taste of a Welsh Cake – a round griddle-cooked cake with dried fruit resembling a flat scone topped off with a fine dusting of sugar. These bisgedi remind me of the Easter Biscuits I made earlier this year. There’s a definite crossover in the mingling of butter, fruit, spice and sugar flavours.
The Welsh biscuits are a follow on from the Shepherds’ success at reviving the Aberffraw Biscuit and while they just happen to have Shepherd as their surname, the choice to use the name and crook motif for this brand feels appropriate given how famous Wales is for its sheep and pastures. From the sixth-century monasticism and missional zeal of Dewi Sant to the Welsh Revival a little over a century ago, the country’s spiritual heritage is unusually rich and still reflects something of the Celtic Christian mindset with its rootedness in the life of the land and rhythms of nature.
The Celtic Christian tradition is one that embraces art and poetry too. The twelfth-century cleric and travel writer Gerald of Wales (c.1146 – c.1223) drew attention to Welsh skill in this respect in his descriptions of the country and its people; in every household, he says guests ‘who arrive in the morning are entertained till evening with the conversation of young women and the music of the harp; for each house has its young women and harps allotted to this purpose’, and harp-playing is ‘held preferable to any other learning’ (Descriptio Cambriae 1: 10). He also commends his compatriots for not being materialistic or jealous, and for their skill at martial as well as musical arts. All this makes me think of King David, who shares his name with Wales’ patron; both the harp and shepherd’s crook are symbols of the man who “shepherded his people with integrity of heart, and led them with skilful hands.” (Ps. 78)
It was David who wrote the Psalm that begins The Lord is My Shepherd. To those of us used to church environments the words are so familiar we can rattle them off without thinking, but they repay dwelling on, especially in a world unpractised in the art of slowing down:
“The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul…
God knows slowing down enough to listen to the music of our souls can be painful when we don’t know how to restore them, or find ourselves hungry, restless or exhausted in ways we don’t fully understand. But perhaps there’s a clue in the psalm if we’re willing to stop and graze there. I am the Good Shepherd, declared David’s most famous descendant: a man who had compassion on the crowds that came to him because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without anyone to care for them (Matt 9:36). Not only did Jesus’s words assure them that his concern for them was deep and genuine, they were also rooted in his ancestor’s beautiful vision of a life lived close to God and subject to his leading. While it might seem counter-intuitive to spend time pondering those words just when the world of work and school is speeding up again, grazing on the Welsh biscuits reminded me that his invitation to be our shepherd still stands.
Reflections from a 72-year-old farmer in Wales’s Teifi Valley: a simple but profound piece that is also worth grazing on.
‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain.‘ Ten facts about Saint David, the narrative of whose life is a typically medieval tapestry of history and legend notable for the lives and communities it inspired even if he didn’t eat many biscuits. You can also read this rather good anonymously authored article on Gerald of Wales as part of a Wiki-history of Chester with a particularly wry put-down of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
‘Your rod and your staff are a strange mercy, in a world where I’m not yet home…’ Audrey Assad’s meditation on Psalm 23 is a musical favourite of mine (or there’s Howard Goodall’s choral gem, also used for the opening credits of The Vicar of Dibley if you prefer a more traditional version!)