Tuesday, January 01, 2008

St. Basil Bread

Yesterday was interesting. I decided in the morning that I wanted to make some "St. Basil" bread. It's a sweet bread that has a coin hidden in it. The person who gets the slice with the coin receives a special blessing for the new year.

This is a Greek tradition (Vasilopita), but I find it to be somewhat familiar. As a child in Switzerland there was a similar tradition with a loaf of sweet bread that had a hidden "king" (small plastic figurine) in it, and a crown that the finder would wear and be "king for a day". In elementary school it was particularly fun when various classmates who had won the king at breakfast each was wearing the crown from home. At least once, one of my teachers brought in such a loaf and we did it in school as well as at home. I think I was fairly lucky, over the years, to get the king often enough. In Switzerland this is done on January 6, for Epiphany, or "Three Kings Day." So it's been something that I've continued with my kids.

But January 6 is celebrated as Theophany (the baptism of our Lord) in the Orthodox Church, and so it doesn't quite fit with the whole "Three Kings" theme. As well as the fact that on a great feast, what with all the prayer services, there's just not so much time for baking.

Imagine my joy when I learned about the St. Basil bread tradition! Now I can continue something fun that I remember from my childhood with a new twist that fits in better with my current schedule.

St. Basil the Great lived in the 300's, during a time when the Church was under fire from the Arians. St. Basil was brilliantly educated, a relief worker, a founder of hospitals and monasteries, a clergy person and eventually a bishop. St. Basil gave to the poor and had a heart for justice issues, embracing a life of poverty and asceticism himself. One story I came across said that perhaps the custom of doing the bread with the coin baked in it stems from a time when he gave to the poor by baking money into loaves, since the poor people were too proud to receive help any other way, St. Basil then claiming that he had no idea how the money got into the loaves.

At any rate, I like tangible ways for us to remember various saints and the ways in which each one followed Christ. B found the quarter in her slice this morning, and decided to put it in the alms box. How fitting. (I learned recently that St. Herman of Alaska (December 14) loved to bake cookies for his orphans, so starting next year, this will be our family's cookie baking day...and hopefully I can think of a way to serve some orphans on that day as well.)

So, yesterday I decided that I'd bake this bread. Except I was out of flour and yeast, so we all bundled up to walk to Save-A-Lot to buy our supplies (Wes' car being in the shop and mine with him at work...). I had a back pack that I was going to carry the stuff home in. Well, at Save-A-Lot, I learned that they don't carry yeast. We were half way to Wal-Mart at that point, so we just kept going. I think Wal-Mart is about two miles from our house. We got the supplies, and then stopped for lunch, because it was lunch time and we'd gone further than planned. That refreshed us.

Eventually we got home and I made the bread. I made a ridiculous amount, and took some to some of our neighbors. Had a nice chat with the lovely couple who recently moved in next door. That was my ultimate object. I wish I wasn't so shy, but there it is.

I didn't really follow any recipe, just made a sweet bread with water, butter, eggs, yeast, sugar, salt, flour, lemon oil, cardamon, cinnamon, raisins and dried mixed berries...and one quarter per loaf. It tastes remarkably the way it should. The lemon and cardamon are a very nice touch, if I do say so myself.

Happy new year to all, and may each of you find the real treasure (Mt. 13-44).

3 comments:

Mimi said...

Enjoy the bread, and may you find the coin! And, have a wonderful New Year!

Anonymous said...

Finding you again ,my friend, was a treasure to me.
What a lovely story. The bread and the adventure sound wonderful.
May you be blessed beyond your wildest dreams.

Love, Joi

Michelle said...

I am going to try that next year.. how exciting that will be for the kids.

Happy New Year to your family!