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Cistercian cuisine

Cistercians are monks established as a branch of a big Catholic Benedictine family in the XI century France in abbey Citeaux near Dijon thanks to St. Bernard from Clairvaux. They got their name on the basis of that abbey that was called Cistercium. Starting from that first abbey, the Cistercian monastic order has spread throughout Europe. Already in the 12th century, over a thousand and eight hundred abbeys confirmed how almost entire Europe was becoming Cistercian. Abbeys were spreading on the principle of filiations: mother abbey establishes daughter abbeys, which again establish new abbeys. The head of all Cistercians was an abbot from Citeaux, and the abbot who establishes a new abbey is a Father. The abbey Topusko, which is the topic of this issue and recipes of which are published here, is the seventy-sixth abbey daughter of Clairvaux. Abbeys are autonomous but are mutually linked and the same rules of life apply in all of them, which were established by Se. Bernard. In those times, the Cistercian order or Marian order enjoyed the general reputation of a most powerful and most important Christian order. The Cistercian order has produced six Popes, 420 cardinals and 800 archbishops.

There are two types of cuisines in the abbeys, the monastic cuisine closed for friars and the open cuisine for kings and other important guests. By all means, friars have not discovered the exquisite cuisine but definitely knew how to nurture it. Cistercian lived following the ideals of Saint Benedict (the most important motto: Ora et Labora). Benedict also established the rules that referred to taking good care of the body. He also set the number of daily meals and the number of individual meals. “We believe that for the main daily meal two cooked dishes are sufficient for each table, with respect to different needs. In this way, if someone does not like one dish, the second one is at his disposal. Two cooked dishes are therefore sufficient for all brothers. If there is any fruit or fresh vegetable, the third dish can also be added. Besides this, a good pound of bread per day is sufficient. A monk should not be a drunk, actually, the wine is not for him” – wrote Benedict and prescribed about one-quarter of a litre of wine per monk per day.

Cheese and milk are very important and tasteful parts of the monastic cuisine, but cheese is similar to cow’s milk, difficult digestible food that can even cause kidney stones. This double defect can be moderated if a sufficient quantity of herb, honey and wine is added to the cheese. The hearts of a good cuisine are before all fresh groceries, and the soul is definitely the spices. Medieval monastic cook was in a very good position because he had at disposal the largest selection of herbs and other additives for improving the meals taste, as well as smoked and cured meats.

Cistercians who settled in Croatia had firstly built the warehouse in Senj on the Adriatic coast and in this way solved the problem of groceries and spices supply necessary for life, as well as they dispatched their products to the world from there. Ranking second for his significance in the monastic hierarchy took care of the spices. One of his duties was to keep valuable and very expensive spices under lock and key. The bags full of spices were not envisaged only for cooks and bakers, but also for pharmacists, as well as for the ones preparing aromatic wines and beers. Their closets contained coriander, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, various types of caraway, Curcuma, nutmeg, and flower, exotic honey, lavender, anise, bay leaves, sage, sesame, mustard, poppy, myrrh, dill, rose water, marjoram, rosemary, pepper- long and short, white and black, as well as salt.

St. Benedict left a precise instruction of what kind of person does a monk taking care of spices and herbs must be: “He is to be chosen from the community, it is a man with experience and a good character. H is not greedy, not nervous, rough, arrogant or prodigal. He must take care of what is confided to him. He must not confuse the brothers. Unreasonable brothers of their unreasonable wishes must be fulfilled in a reasonable way. He must also have taken care of the sick, children, guests and the poor. The entire inventory, all monastic property is confided to his generous and on no account mean management. He allocates the agreed quantity of food and beverages to the brothers.”

Gruel was the main monastic food, especially during the fasting period. Gruel tastefully prepared with walnuts, raisins and other fruit, covered with a big chunk of butter and cream. Cistercians had their own carp hatcheries, i.e. fish-ponds, so the fish was also frequently on their menu.



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