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!)

IMG_1403.jpg

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.

IMG_3656.JPG

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:

main-image-3.jpeg

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

Linecké Cukroví

In the Fourth Week of Advent my Czech friend gave to me… six beautiful handmade biscuits. At first glance they appear to be a daintier kind of Jammy Dodger – a delicate little jam and shortbread sandwich that would look quite at home in Alice’s Wonderland – but a little research reveals that they are in fact a special type of biscuit called Linecké Cukroví traditionally eaten in the Czech Republic at Christmas time. Katka assures me that the ones her mother makes are better, but I think these are perfect and very yummy indeed with a cup of coffee.

IMG_5282
The vivid colour and translucency of the jam reminded me of stained glass, and glass-making too belongs to a tradition of Czech craftsmanship dating back to at least the thirteenth century when it was part of the Kingdom of Bohemia.  It’s also the home of a medieval king long distinguished for his charity at Christmas: Good King Wenceslas, or Vaclav the Good as he is known in Central Europe. The English carol about him taking food to peasants is very new-fangled, but like Britain’s King Arthur it is said that if the Republic is ever in peril his statue in Wenceslaus Square will come to life and lead an army to victory with a legendary sword, bringing peace to the land.

With this in mind, it didn’t take me long to find a spiritual significance for the Linecké Cukroví. In one of the most famous passages of the New Testament St Paul talks about life in this world as an existence in which we only ever apprehend the real nature of things dimly, as if through a glass. ‘For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known…’ This note of longing to know more fully and see better than we do at present is also a guiding theme of the ‘O’ Antiphons which the Catholic and Anglican church pray during this last week of Advent. Today’s Antiphon ‘O Oriens’ speaks of the longing of those walking in darkness looking for the light to come, and tomorrow’s ‘O Rex Gentium’ of the longing for the coming of the king of all nations and the peace he brings: a good sentence for the closing of Advent and these lovely Christmas gifts.

Further Delectation

Take a virtual tour of the stained glass in St Vitus Cathedral, where Wenceslas I is buried.

Have a go at whipping up your own Feast of Stephen with this Linecke Cukrovi recipe or some more Christmas biscuit recipes from around the world.

Enjoy these Advent Antiphon poems by Malcolm Guite or listen to Will Todd’s The Call of Wisdom a particularly beautiful album for Advent recorded by Tenebrae choir.

Music-making was a large part of Christmas celebrations in the Middle Ages. This beautiful Bohemian nativity scene is tucked away in a Cistercian book of liturgical music (image via Switzerland’s Central Library in Lucerne).

11331793206_cb0a2f61a1_b.jpg

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