Sunday, August 12, 2018

Stamping Bread

Bread is present in scripture as physical sustenance, theological symbol, sacramental vehicle, and more. The theme of bread is a through-line from Genesis (By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 3:19) through Paul (I Corinthians 11.28: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread...)

The Greek Orthodox liturgy uses a particular bread which is made solely for liturgical use. Prosphoron (plural: prosphora), which literally means offering, is made by members of the congregation from four ingredients: flour, salt, water, and yeast, though some streams in the Orthodox tradition omit the salt. The leavened dough is shaped into two round pieces which are stacked on top of one another and baked. The two pieces of dough symbolize Christ's two natures: human and divine.

In the Greek tradition, one large loaf is used in the liturgy. In the Slav tradition, there are five loaves, remembering the loaves that fed five thousand people.

Before baking, the bread is stamped with a seal called a sphragis or Panagiari. The stamp's design usually includes the abbreviation IC XC NIKA (Jesus Christ conquers) and the shape of a cross. The stamp below was available for purchase at the time of this post's publication.
One additional ingredient not mentioned above is prayer. The process of baking prosphora is a prayerful process. When preparing to bake, kneading the dough, stamping the loaf, and putting the loaves in the oven, the baker prays. Scripture reading is encouraged while the bread is baking. The tools and utensils for baking prosphora are often kept separate from other kitchen tools so that they are used only for prosphora.

An internet search will yield a number of recipes for Prosphora

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fish...and Two Sauces

In the gospel reading for Easter 3B, Jesus is given a piece of fish to eat to prove that he isn't a ghost (Luke 24:36-49). It may seem absolutely normal for the disciples to be eating fish, but remember that this story is set in Jerusalem, not on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The gospel writer makes sure to note that the fish is broiled, which can be a lovely way to serve fish. Where I'm from, though, we're just as fond of fish with a cornmeal dredge and a swim in the deep fryer. So for this text, two sauces. One sauce is for succulent broiled fish, and the other is a variation of tartar sauce.
As a little something different, I've planted sorrel this year. In the photo above, the sorrel is the broad-leaved spinach lookalike in the lower left corner. Sorrel is a lemony-flavored green that may be best known for its use in a soup. It is perhaps too agressive to use raw in a salad, but it makes a classic sauce to serve with fish. You can do a search for sorrel sauce and find several very well-known names offering their version. Across the recipes the processes are similar to create this cream-based sauce. Chiffonade the sorrel and set it aside. Chop some onion or shallot. Melt some butter in a pan and saute first the shallot, then quickly saute the sorrel. Pour in the cream and simmer. At least one version of the sauce includes chopped tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the fish or place the fish in a puddle of sauce on the plate.

If you are a fan of fried fish with tartar sauce (a classic combination), why not give your tartar sauce (store-bought or homemade) a little wake-up? Chop artichoke hearts and/or add capers to your usual sauce. A dollop of mustard or even a taste of horseradish can make a run-of-the-mill tartar sauce not quite so run-of-the-mill.

We trust Jesus enjoyed his fish, and we hope you'll try a sauce or two the next time fish is on your menu.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Eggs, lamb, chocolate...these are the foods associated with Easter, but there are other foods that are traditional for Holy Week. Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. A sweet yeast bread studded with raisins or currants, hot cross buns were common enough that they found their way into Mother Goose.

Hot-cross buns!
Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!

The cross on top of the buns is sometimes made by slashing the top of the uncooked dough or creating a flour paste, but for folks with a sweet(er) tooth, the cross can be made with icing. During her reign Elizabeth I of England proclaimed that hot cross buns could be sold only on Easter or Christmas. Anyone caught baking the buns on other days would be required to donate to the poor the buns or the money made from selling the buns.

If you don't have the time or inclination to make the buns from scratch (and there are many recipes online), thin about buying frozen bread dough and after the dough thaws, knead in the raisins or currants. Then form the buns. You can cut the cross into the top of the buns or use an icing recipe found online.

Picture from A recipe for buns is found there. It is one of many recipes online.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hyssop and Wheatberries

We are not advocating putting hyssop and wheatberries in the same dish, but only because we haven't tried it. Stay tuned, though. However, these two ingredients are mentioned in the lectionary passages for Lent 5B. The gospel reading (John 12:20-33) refers to a grain of wheat that is planted and grows. The psalm (51:1-12) includes the familiar line "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean" (v.7)

Hyssop is a flowering plant whose leaves are valued for cleansing and medicinal properties. Though there is no consensus about which plant is the hyssop mentioned in scripture, common hyssop (hyssopus officinalis - shown as plant and bloom below left) would seem to be a likely choice, though there is a question about whether this plant was known in the region in Biblical times. The current frontrunner for the plant mentioned in the Bibile is Origanum maru (shown at right), sometimes referred to as Syrian oregano, a member of the same family (labiatae) as common hyssop. Some people identify a member of the caper family as Biblical hyssop. In scripture, hyssop is most often used for purification purposes.

Leviticus 14:4-7 and 14:49-51 prescribe that a bird being sacrificed for the cleansing of a person suffering with leprosy to be sprinkled with hyssop. It is also part of the purification ritual for the cleansing of a tent, person or vessel that has touched a dead body.

Today hyssop is used as a culinary herb. The scent of hyssop has been likened to lavender and mint, and more than one recipe suggests addling hyssop in small amounts to any dish so that the plant doesn't overpower the other ingredients. The leaves can be used fresh or dried; the flowers are most often used fresh.
A search for hyssop recipes will yield broths as well as for both meat and vegetable dishes.

The second ingredient in the Lent 5B readings comes from the gospel reading about planting and harvesting grains. The plant used as an example is wheat, which produces the edible seed called a wheatberry. Wheatberries are the whole-grain form of wheat, which makes them a high-fiber food. You can find wheatberries from hard red wheat and soft white wheat (photo below right). Wheatberries take a bit of time to cook but are not especially difficult to cook. They can be used like rice and pasta in salads or stir-fry, as an accompaniment to meat or as a side dish on their own.

You may want to briefly toast the wheatberries in the oven (on an ungreased sheet pan with sides). Heat the oven to around 375 degrees and toast for about 10 minutes, until the wheatberries are lightly browned and aromatic. After toasting, put the wheatberries in a pan filled with ample water and a good pinch of salt. There is no particular ratio of grains and water; you will drain any excess water when the wheatberries are cooked.

Bring the wheatberries to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook over medium heat on the stovetop until the wheatberries are cooked through. This may take as long as 50 minutes, depending on the amount you are cooking. Start checking for doneness after about 30 minutes. Dip out several berries, let them cool slightly before tasting. Even when done, they will be slightly chewy but should not be tough. Drain the wheatberries when cooked.

To make a wheatberry salad, add vegetables of your choosing and toss with a vinaigrette. Choose a flavor profile (a salad of Italian flavors with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella or a salad of Asian flavors with snow peas and bean sprouts, a garden salad with celery, carrots and onion, a Waldorf-inspired salad with apple, raisins and celery). The vinaigrette can be shaded toward the flavor profile as well (balsamic vinegar in an Italian vinaigrette, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil in an Asian vinaigrette). Possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What Peter's Mother-in-Law Knew

Oh, she understood, bless her heart. Peter's mother-in-law has a raging fever (Mark 1:29-39, Epiphany 5B). She's sick in bed, but before a verse goes by she's out of bed and serving the visitors in her house. She knew what Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays know...even being dead is no excuse for being a bad hostess.

Written from personal experience as residents in the Mississippi Delta, the authors promise to give you all the tools you need to host the perfect Southern funeral. Recipes for always-appropriate funeral food are included along with stories that might sound a little unbelievable if you didn't know they were true.
Metcalfe and Hays have put together a lively and unique guide to life, death and social obligation. It sounds like Peter's mother-in-law could have been their co-author.

"Being Dead is No Excuse" is published by Hachette Book Group. For more information, see:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

An Idea for Baptism

This Sunday (11 January 2015) is Baptism of the Lord B. This is a perfect Sunday to celebrate new baptisms and for all of us to remember our own baptism. If your congregation is celebrating baptisms on Sunday why not have cookies? For infants, perhaps cookies in the shape of infant baptismal clothing would be fun. A variety of cookie cutters are available - both dresses and rompers.

Cookie cutters available at (Inclusion here does not constitute an endorsement of the product or company. Images are provided for information only.)

And if you are feeling especially brave, why not let the children of the church decorate the cookies? Perhaps some "professional" ones could be made for the family of the one being baptized. Or maybe the better remembrance for the family would be to present them with the cookies decorated by the children of the church.
Decorated cookies are from Sweet Cookie Boutique at

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Galette des Rois

Sweets. That's what we need right now: another dessert especially for Epiphany. By the time January 6 arrives all the pre-Christmas and Christmas goodies will be gone, the party food from New Year's Eve will be a memory, and you'll be looking for one last treat for the season.

In France the Epiphany tradition is to enjoy a Galette des Rois (Cake of the Kings). There are two types of Galettes des Rois. One is made with a yeast batter and decorated with sugared fruit. The other is more pastry than cake: almond cream is sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry. In recent years, the traditional almond filling has been tweaked and experimented with and sometimes abandoned altogether, so fillings may vary from home to home and bakery to bakery. When presented for eating, the cake traditionally wears a foil or paper crown.
Like its cousin, the American Mardi Gras King Cake, a Galette des Rois includes a token of some kind or a bean baked into the cake. Whoever finds the token is declared king or queen for the day.

Recipes abound on the internet, so a quick search for "galette des rois" will provide many options, but if you want to be inspired by the Epiphany creations of a Paris patisserie, here are two:
Dominique Saibron: 
This is their pistachio galette.