Gingerbread cake

17Ever since the olden times it has been impossible to imagine church festivals and fairs without stalls filled with small gingerbread cakes, LICITARS. They are offered in various shapes, that of a heart being the most common one. Other shapes include horses, horseshoes, babies, tiny boots, mushrooms and cherries. Small honey biscuits can also be strung on a thread so as to form a necklace with a cross or a heart pendant, reminiscent of a rosary or a common ornament worn round the neck respectively. In addition to licitars, such stalls usually sell candles, mead and gvirc (an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and wine, quite similar to mead).

Licitar is a richly decorated cake made of water, licitar yeast, plain flour and honey (ever more often replaced by sugar). Contrary to popular belief, these cakes are edible. More often than not, licitar is in the shape of a heart, painted fiery red and lavishly decorated with various patterns and motifs. Licitars can be found in different sizes, ranging from very small ones up to those half a meter in height. Cakes shaped as babies, horses, mushrooms and cherries are additionally decorated with stickers implying their natural appearance. Some of them have an extra miniature mirror glued on them.

If we take a look at old pictures or photographs or pay a visit to a church festival – known in Slavonia as kirvaj or kirbaj – or a fair – be it the one held weekly, monthly or annually – we are bound to see children filled with joy, gazing in rapture at their own reflection in a mirror which had only seconds ago been glued together with a gingerbread cake, their mouths full of the cake itself. Girls race about, their heads up high, proud of the necklaces with cross or heart pendants they wear at their necks. A closer look reveals that some of the honey biscuits are missing from the thread. So, where are they? Well, isn’t that obvious? In the mouth or a tummy of a happy child!

003Today most gingerbread makers sell their products at church festivals, where many people gather not only to hear the mass, but also to spend some time in front of the church building, so as to talk to each other and amuse themselves. This also includes browsing the stalls, which always include those selling gingerbread products. Gingerbread stalls are easily recognizable due to white tents they are usually placed inside. Not so long ago, especially in villages, such gatherings were almost a single occasion for young people to get to know each other or to express mutual affection and fondness.

Or … think of the warm and pleasant atmosphere of Christmas Eve, when filled with joy and a relishing smell of codfish and other food to be eaten after the midnight mass, we decorate our Christmas trees, anxiously waiting for Christmas to come. We can hear children laughing, see them dancing round the tree, trying to adorn it with gingerbread cakes. Their faces are lit up with joy while their parents hold them in their arms helping them reach the utmost branches so as to make the tree more beautiful adding one more heart, a baby, a horse or some other licitar. Doesn’t the atmosphere make us feel happy? We are filled with wonderful smells of Christmas Eve, the warmth of the fire burning in the fireplace, a stove or, as is more commonplace these days, the warmth of a radiator somewhere in a skyscraper. The richly decorated Christmas tree only heightens the atmosphere and even turns the humble radiators (a modern invention) into a beautiful fire filling our souls and bodies with warmth.

fotografija (55)Or … remember the most beautiful feeling one can have – apart from being a parent – that of love for the opposite sex. One of the special occasions when lovers can share tokens of affection is certainly St Valentine’s Day. It has already become customary to present the loved ones with licitar hearts, not only as signs affection or fondness, but also of devotion. They are exchanged between young couples still dating, as well as between a husband and wife. Such licitars are always fiery red, typically decorated with white curves and flowers. Some hearts have love lines inscribed or a small piece of mirror glued on them. This custom is still followed in the northern parts of Croatia, especially in Hrvatsko Zagorje.

Out of the whole range of licitar products, hearts are recognized as an authentic Croatian souvenir