I was still in elementary school when my mom made her first trek to Medjugorge. She had recently been converted to Catholicism and was invited by her sponsor to join the pilgrimage to eastern Europe. It was a place of reported apparitions and deep, unshakable faith. And it must have been every bit as magical as she hoped because she's been praying ALL the rosaries ever since.
Ambitious prayer goals weren’t the only thing she brought home; home life suddenly included fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. To be clear -and avert any belated child welfare concerns- she was not starving us, but rather encouraging us to eat stark and bland foods for the day. Bagels and cream cheese became …bagels. Peanut butter and jelly became …bread. To support the cause, she began whipping up regular batches of a new recipe titled “Medugorje Fasting Bread.” To this day, that bread, in all it's bran-filled, dense glory, is what first comes to mind when I think of school lunches. That bread, with a thin smear of cream cheese on it if you were lucky and it wasn’t a Wednesday or Friday, was one that no one ever wanted to trade for. Thanks, bakers of Medugorje.
I never knew if it was the austere recipe or my mother’s lack of culinary skills that made our Medugorje Fasting Bread so exceptionally inedible. She had a tendency to disregard the finer points of recipes such as ingredients she couldn’t explain (ex: baking soda) and steps she deemed unnecessary (ex: baking in general, which is why our granola was gooey and our pizza crusts mostly raw). Side-note: these days, she doesn’t even have an oven at home and operates solely on stovetop. Either way, the foil-wrapped wedge that I so dreaded in the cafeterias of my youth had the effect of a mouthful of sawdust when you bit in: impossibly dry, crumbly, and flavorless.
Fast forward to more recent days, when my mother bestowed her life’s collection of recipes on me. Not surprisingly, they fit in a miniscule index-card case. Most of the cards were still blank. Still, it was fun to sift through them and see recipes shared from old friends, hand-typed, off-centered, and on customized recipe card stock. “From Patty’s Kitchen” the top corner would read, or “Mary’s Favorite…”. Most of the recipes were unfamiliar and clearly dishes that my mom had admired but never bothered to try herself. It wasn’t surprising; my parents had often laughed about the years when their refrigerator held only two items: film for my mom’s camera and potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
In browsing through the recipe cards I came across a yellowed, photocopied paper, creased and torn on the edges. The top had a handwritten memo that said “1200 calories- enough for two days” and it was titled: “Fasting Bread recipe from Medjugorge.” I laughed allowed at the recollections of desolate school lunches that this recipe immediately conjured up. For memory’s sake, I pinned it to my bulletin board.
Recently I got it into my head that I should bake my own fasting bread and bring it to my mother. Turn the tables! See how she likes it! Of course, I knew that in actuality she’d be thrilled, and would undoubtedly proclaim it delicious as ever. But also I wondered; was the fasting bread really so bad? Were my childhood taste buds too picky for its delicacies, or had my mother strayed too quickly and far from the original recipe? I pondered over the recipe. It didn’t look so bad. Yogurt, wheat, a touch of honey, bran, optional nuts and fruit… it looked like any “healthy” quick bread. Fasting aside, I decided to give it a go.
I began by mixing the yogurt, honey, wheat flour, oats, and bran together the evening before baking and let it sit overnight. I wanted the lactic acid from the yogurt to work on pre-digesting some of the tough stuff in those cereal grains. The following morning, I mashed in the salt, baking soda, flax seeds and goji berries, smoothed it into an 8” cake pan (the fasting bread of my memories is always short and round; the recipe specifies mounding it in a low circle) and let it sit for 10 minutes while the baking soda developed some lift. Then into the oven it went.
A brief twenty minutes later, I extracted a domed, golden-brown loaf, speckled attractively with rosy goji berries and flecked with glossy flax seeds. It looked nothing like what I recall pulling out of my lunch bags. Nor did the smell, a honey-kissed, toasty odor, evoke any distinct memories. My fasting bread was downright appetizing.
As soon as the fasting bread was cool enough to handle, I wrapped it in a clean towel and pedaled the short distance to my mom’s. Her glee was palpable. It was like I had shown up with the dearest of old friends from her past. We settled around the kitchen counter to discover if we still recognized this particular acquaintance.
I wish I could say that we were delighted by a richness of flavor and a perfection of texture. We weren’t, not exactly. But it was far from unpleasant as we each chewed our way through a moderately warm wedge. The gelatinous flax seeds gave it a satisfying chew while the sweet/savory goji berries played off the notes of honey.
It’s not a resounding review, I know, but what would one expect from a bread that’s supposed to be a penance to eat?
I’m including the recipe here, not with the expectation that you’ll hurry to your kitchen to preheat the oven, but to fulfill the fasting bread curiosity that must be festering by now.
If you do decide to give Medugorje fasting bread a try, I trust you will do so with appropriately low expectations. Who knows? Maybe you’ll enjoy it just a little bit as well. And if you don't, well, you can offer it as a penance.
Medjugorge Fasting Bread
· 2.5 cups Yogurt
· 2 cups Wheat “Flower”
· 1.5 cups Rolled Oats
· ½ cup Bran
· 2 Tbsp. Honey or Maple Syrup
· 2 tsp. Baking Soda
· 1 tsp. Salt
· ½ cup Dried Fruit, Nuts, and/or Seeds
Optional first step: mix first five ingredients together and allow to sit at room temperature for 8-12 hours.
Mix all (or remaining) ingredients together. Form into a low mound on a greased baking dish and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.