Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cardamom Bread: memories, thoughts and a recipe

One of my favorite treats at Christmas or Pascha is cardamom bread. It's been a favorite since I was little.

Before we were Orthodox we belonged to the EOC (Evangelical Orthodox Church). My mom had been part of the Campus Crusade for Christ movement (if I have my facts straight) and moved to Alaska to join her brothers. It was a group of churches in Alaska, Washington, California, Chicago, etc. Based in the home church idea trying to get back to basics and more liturgical. My dad was the pastor for our small home church and we would partake of communion in our home or in a neighbor's house. The bread that we ate every Sunday was cardamom bread. I won't ever forget it. It was sweet and had a flavor from heaven. When I was ten we joined the Orthodox Church of Antioch, we established a real Orthodox parish with a very tight knit community and though my dad was offered the priesthood, he declined after careful consideration.

The cardamom bread was traded in for actual Prosphora baked weekly by women in the parish. It did not have the sweet heavenly taste that our memorable braided bread did, but this was the bread of the Church.

The cardamom bread was still highly regarded in our community. It had special meaning to us. We had not discarded our past but brought it with us into our new Orthodox life. The cardamom bread loaves was baked by the dozen for special occasions and served as special treats. It was traded as a commodity at bake sales and given as gifts for Christmas.

Reading about the origins of cardamom bread it seems to come from Sweden and Finland. This makes sense, since many of us were only a few generations removed from settlers from those lands. My maiden name was Johnson and my grandparents are Fin-Swedes. I'm sure my family wasn't the only one in the church who was of Nordic decent. After all, this group of young people had chosen Alaska to put down roots and start families. Climate very similar to Sweden. It's funny to think about how the Antiochiocian Orthodox Church is the one who decided to allow hundreds of Swede Evangelicals into their very Arab dominated and very NON Evangelical church.

Our bishop is from the old land in Syria, he loves us, he takes good care of us white converts and asked us yesterday to raise up our children to become priests and bishops because we can't always get bishops from Syria. They are currently in a very turbulent war and the Christians have been scattered. He visits us here in Alaska every year, in the coldest time of year, during Christmas. The priest in our small parish is of Assyrian decent. His grandparents and father fled from Iran when his father was young. He loves us, he takes very good care of us white necks (there's not much sun up here). He is extremely well read and gifted with language, he teaches his children, and sometimes mine, the Aramaic language; that was the language that our Christ spoke when he walked this earth.

In the Greek tradition they have their Tsoureki and the Russians have their Kulich. Baked for Pascha (the Resurrection of Christ) full of milk, eggs, sugar and goodness. But those of us who had any childhood in an X - EOC parish still love a big hunk of cardamom bread on any day of the year. For me...especially on Christmas.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas.

And as we Orthodox say: Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Cardamom Bread from the St. John's Cookbook
-2 loaf recipe

1/2 c butter
2/3 c sugar -cream these together
2 eggs        -beat in eggs
add to the top of the creamed goodness but don't mix yet:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 c dry milk
2 pkg yeast
2 cups flour
1 1/2 c warm water -mix a bit, let yeast proof
-mix together
3 1/3- 4 cups flour, gradually add in, make a smooth/soft dough. Kneed 'till smooth.
Place in greased bowl, rise 1.25 hours.
Punch and divide.
Make 2 braids, put on greased cookie sheet.
Rise 40 minutes.
Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 min or 'till brown.

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