Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part One: Bread

There is so much inspiration here at Catholic Cuisine! Mary's Bread - A Staple of Liturgical Year Celebrations and then Mary Ellen's Feeling Wine-y, a practical guide to experimenting and enjoying wines, got me all excited -- these ladies share my enthusiasm! I had sketched an outline for an article years ago on some how-to pointers celebrating with bread and wine for the Liturgical Year (on the back of two envelopes, no less -- my greatest brain storms are always sketched on the backs of envelopes). After being inspired by Mary and Mary Ellen, I thought this might be a good time to flesh it out!

While some of these ideas can be incorporated in the family, you might also say this series could be entitled "Feasting for Adults through the Liturgical Year."

Like Mary Machado mentioned, "Bread is such a significant image in our faith...and it is a staple of life." I find breaking bread (literally and figuratively) and sharing wine together is such a wonderful social experience. I enjoy baking bread, although I've had to shelve most of my interaction with wheat flour because of my older son's food allergy to wheat. There might be a chance he'll outgrow the allergy, but for now I enjoy talking recipes and eating other people's masterpieces.

Mary gave some excellent tips about incorporating bread into feast days. Since it is "the staple of life" it seems so natural to work bread into our celebrations around the year. I mentioned some ideas here on First Communion breads. Some further extensions of incorporating bread for feastdays:

Liturgical Feasting With Bread: 

  • This is the most obvious: bake breads that are traditionally linked with a feast or saint, such as the German Christmas Christollen or Stollen which resembles the Christ Child in swaddling clothes. Or St. Catherine’s Wigs for St. Catherine of Alexandria’s feast on November 25.
  • Don't be limited by yeast breads, but remember there are a vast array of recipes for sourdough breads, rolls, quick breads, muffins, gluten-free and wheat free baking, scones, (American) biscuits, etc. In our family dinners I mark the special feasts with some kind of bread, as I don't serve it every day.
  • Use bread recipes from a geographic area, region, or culture. For example, for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Italian bread would be appropriate, but you could also delve deeper and use a bread recipe from the Umbrian region or specifically a recipe from the city of Assisi. The same principle applied elsewhere, such as not confusing Spanish with Castilian saints (St. Ignatius of Loyola was Castilian). France is divided into various regions, each with unique flavors, such as bread from Provençal. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI is from Germany, but he's specifically from Bavaria.
  • Use regional ingredients (grains, fruits, etc.) to mark a feast. Is a saint from Scotland? Oat cakes or scones or bannocks would be a perfect touch. For example, serve the native corn in the style of cornbread on Saint Kateri Tekakwitha's feast on July 14. For St. Barnabas the Apostle (June 11), incorporate some olive bread, since one of his symbols is the olive branch. Or mix in some appropriate vegetables, fruits, and/or nuts into your usual bread dough to mark the feast.
  • Use inspiration from other traditions and customs around the world. The food doesn't have to be applied to the original feast, like Symbolic Breads, which were originally from St. Joseph's feast day, but the shaping of breads can be applied to various feasts, including this upcoming Corpus Christi Sunday. Also look at historical recipes, like biblical, Ancient Mediterranean, medieval, etc. Try medieval baking for a saint or feast from the medieval era, or biblical breads, such as Ezekiel fasting bread for ember days and unleavened bread for some New Testament saints. And how about some Jewish kosher cooking for saints like Martha? A Jewish challah bread would be perfect for her day!
  • Play with words! Sometimes recipes have unique or fun titles, or use proper names. If a bread has a name that fits with the saint of the day, use it! I keep thinking of the story of panettone, Tony's Bread by Tomie dePaola. Since it's named after Tony, it would be perfect to serve on St. Anthony Abbott's feast on January 17th, whose daily bread was brought to him by a raven. Most Italians don't bake this bread but buy it, so purchase an extra box at Christmas and save it for this feast.
  • Be inspired by the shapes and colors of breads. A fabulous Easter bread is the Italian Colomba di Pasqua or Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove). My husband and I have bought this for two Easters from our favorite local Italian restaurant. Although it's originally an Easter bread, the dove shape makes it perfect to serve Columba Pasquale for Pentecost or Confirmation celebrations.
  • And the same can be applied to Greek Trinity bread -- an Easter bread, but triangular in shape would make it perfect for the Feast of the Blessed Trinity (yesterday's feast). Cloverleaf and Shamrock Rolls can be used for the feast of St. Patrick and the feast of the Blessed Trinity.
  • Have a blessing of bread when everyone is gathered before eating. The older form of the Roman Ritual has a delightful collection of blessings of foods, particularly breads.
  • Lord Jesus Christ, You live and are King forever. Bread of angels, Bread of everlasting life, be so kind as to bless this bread as You blessed the five loaves in the desert, that all who taste of it may through it receive health of body and soul. R. Amen.

  • This page has a compilation of the Blessings of Food. Note there are three specifically for bread!

  • Cookbook Recommendations: The following books are my favorite bread cookbooks, great for inspiration on bread baking throughout the year:

    The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry. For me there are two types of cookbooks, one is wonderful reading AND good recipes, and the other a great compilation of recipes. This falls into the former. Brother Rick shares the spiritual side of baking bread. He follows St. Ignatius' rule to make a daily Examen of Conscience, and does it while he bakes bread. "Radical or not, I consider it to be one of the secrets of Jesuit breadmaking." This is a delightful cookbook, with such personal anecdotes and practical baking advice. He uses recipes from Jesuits from all over the world, with breads for all the seasons: Advent, Lent, Christmas, Easter, and also daily breads, rolls, muffins and corn breads.

    The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler. This is an out-of-print cookbook, but very easy to find used copies. It has the most delightful collection of festive breads for all sorts of days, both secular holidays (Lincoln and Washington's birthdays, Election Day, for examples) and some religious feast days, including ones like St. Barbara (December 4), St. Lucia, and St. Joseph. Not every recipe is illustrated, but the book does include several mouth-watering photographs.

    Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions by Betsy Oppenneer is an excellent, step-by-step cookbook for baking bread. Each recipe has alternative directions for mixing by hand, by mixer and by food processor. The book is organized by country and then breads for various celebrations of that culture, with descriptions and tales for each. It's a delightful book, with hand drawn illustrations throughout. Check out a preview at Google Books.

    Stayed tuned for Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part Two: Wine. Pin It


    1. Great post Jenn, I really enjoyed reading it! You have so much to share.

      St. Catherine of Alexandria is a favorite in our home -- plus Nov 25th is a very special day to me... We usually make a heart cake for my oldest daughter, but maybe this year we will add St. Catherine's Wigs as well! I am going to make a note right now!

      Thanks so much for sharing, as well as for all the great links!

      I'm looking forward to your next post!

    2. I am really enjoying this blog! It is filled with such great information.

      Thanks for the cookbook recommendations. I am going to look into some of those, they sound wonderful.

    3. What an excellent post on bread! Bread is my Adkin's diet for me! I own The Secrets Of Jesuit Breadmaking but would also highly recommend Bernard Clayton's The New Complete Book Of Bread. It is chock full of traditional and historical breads. An excellent reference!

      Thanks for all your hard work in putting together these posts...they are most enjoyable!

    4. I recently got a copy of Brother Rick Curry's breadmaking book at Half Price Books and have devised a little "Jesuit Breadmaking Course" for myself this summer. . .I picked a couple of recipes from each section and will make them with my 12yodd who is quite a baker already. .

      I just love being Catholic!

      God Bless,
      Melinda in SE Texas

    5. I just came upon this blog for the first time and it is wonderful! We do a weekly teatime in our home and these bread ideas are great! I'm also happy to see "A Continual Feast" in your sidebar because I just received that very same book in the mail from my mother as a birthday present.

      Thanks for these wonderful, inspiring ideas! I will be a regular visitor here now.

    6. Our local Portugese community celebrates the Feast of Pentecost by hosting a huge community dinner. The main dish is Holy Spirit Soup. This consists of a rich broth that is poured over thick homemade bread and toped with cabbage and mint. They also serve platters of Massa Sovada, Portugese sweet bread, The meets form the broth and Alcatra, a dish of marinated beef cooked in clay pots. The community spends 4 days cooking for the three day celebrations. The families gather together each of the three nights to eat and pray the Rosary.