In the last paragraph of my article, Merry Christmas from the Vatican: a Cookbook to Bring Joy in a Sad Year, published here on December 9, 2020, its author Thomas Kelly wrote: “David and I are working on another Vatican cookbook to be published by The Sophia Institute, but it’s still a ‘Vatican secret’.”
Well, now the secret is out. On January 25 the Institute published The Lenten Cookbook (224 pages, $29.95).
In actual fact, its upcoming publication had been announced to me in an e-mail dated November 9, 2021 from Sarah Lemieux, the Institute’s Director of Publicity. She began by saying, “The Lenten Cookbook is much more than a cookbook; it’s the first-ever guidebook for mealtimes during Lent (the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday). The volume features essays, not as announced by Thomas Kelly, but by the acclaimed Biblical scholar, public speaker, and teacher Scott Hahn, who’s publishing his first collaboration with the Institute. Chef Geisser has once again compiled the volume’s recipes, 75 new international ones, and Roy Matter, a frequent collaborator of Geisser’s, both behind the lens and in the chef’s kitchen, has again taken the photographs.”
For those who haven’t seen my earlier article, Geisser, born and raised in the Wetzikon District of Zurich, was already an accomplished young chef and published author when he enlisted in the Pontifical Swiss Guards in 2013.
As the The Lenten Cookbook’s author’s blurb recounts, “today David is one of the leading chefs in Switzerland, author or co-author of seven cookbooks in German, host of his own TV show, and the founder and leader of David Geisser Cooking Studio. David and his wife, Selina, reside in Zurich.”
On his personal website, Geisser says: “Passion is the Leitmotiv that guides my work. Be it passion for all things culinary or a passion for people—I believe that putting your lifeblood into what you do is the key to success.”
As for Hahn, he was a Presbyterian who converted to Catholicism at Easter in 1986. His author’s blurb here recounts, “Dr. Hahn’s talks have been effective in helping thousands of Protestants like himself once, and many non-practicing Catholics to (re)embrace the Catholic faith. His numerous best-selling books include The Lamb’s Supper (a key to understanding the mysteries of the Mass), Reasons to Believe, Rome Sweet Home (co-authored with his wife Kimberley, a detailed step-by step description of the couple’s conversions), The Creed (a history of Christianity and why the Judeans, Persians, Greeks, and Romans saw it as a threat to social order), Evangelizing Catholics, and Angels and Saints. Many others of his highly respected titles can be ordered from Amazon.
Since 1990 Hahn holds the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and New Evangelization at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, across the Ohio River some 30 miles west of Pittsburgh. In 2014 Francis Cardinal George appointed him to the newly-established McEssy Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Biblical Theology at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. Two of his five sons, Joseph and Jeremiah, are seminarians there.
Hahn’s Lenten Cookbook essays (“The Joy of Fasting: An Introduction” which includes fasting’s history even before Christianity), “Fasting in Modern Practice”, “Lent”, and “Fasting Through the Year”) reflect on the history of fasting and fasting’s integral role in the reader’s spiritual growth. When it comes to Christianity, Hahn writes: “The practice of fasting is attested in the earliest documents of early Christianity and is unanimously recommended by the Church Fathers. For instance, the first-century Didache, the earliest known description of Christian teaching and discipline, says in its very first paragraph: ‘Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you’”. This describes fasting as a vicarious expiation for the sins of others. A few pages later Hahn writes that in the fourth century “the Council of Nicaea defined the season of Lent, and so other customs of weekly fasts and preparations for sacraments settled into near-universal practices.” He goes on to tell us that during the Middle Ages: “The rather strict and standardized rules of fasting allowed for some clever workarounds.” Probably the most infamous example is Rouen Cathedral’s “Butter Tower”, “funded by dispensations sold to wealthy patrons, so they could eat butter and milk during Lent.”
In her email, Lemieux continued with, “In his essays: ‘Hahn Guides You’, and ‘Lent,’ Hahn guides you on how to practice a holy Lent that will enable you to return your focus to Christ, and to carry the unique and extraordinary joys of Lent forward into the rest of the year.
You’ll also learn of forgotten Catholic traditions and timeless customs, such as St. Martin’s Lent, Ember Days, and Rogation Days, and how you can apply these time-honored periods of grace to your spiritual life today.”
In case you’re not familiar with church history, “St. Martin’s Lent” or “Christmas Fast” as St. Francis of Assisi called it, lasts from St. Martin’s Feast Day (November 12) until Christmas Day. Traditionally “Ember Days” comprise the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following St. Lucy’s Day (December 13), the first Sunday in Lent, Pentecost, and Holy Cross Day (September 14). “Rogation Days” are festival days devoted to special prayers for crops on April 25 and the three days before Ascension.
Hahn’s essays are followed by a page about the strictest Lenten diet, “The Black Fast”, which allows only one meal a day (without meat, eggs, butter, cheese, milk or wine to be eaten after sunset and during Holy Week consisting only of bread, salt, herbs and water), “The Traditional Fasting Substitution List,” and an “Index of Recipes for Traditional Fasting”.
Then come Geisser’s recipes divided into Breakfast, Soup, Salads, Collations or Small Meals, Main Dishes which include pasta, fish, vegetables, several Quiche and vegetable and seafood curries, ending with Breads and Hot Cross Buns, which are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. As to the bun’s origin, it seems that Br. Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th-century monk at St. Alban’s Abbey in England, first baked them, etching a cross on their tops, to distribute to the poor on Good Friday. Their raisins symbolize the spices used to embalm Christ’s body for burial. For obvious reasons, Geisser did not include recipes for desserts.
Much earlier, in 2001, the Institute published Maria Augusta Von Trapp’s (of The Sound of Music family) Around the Year, a charming volume in which she describes the Christian traditions year-round that she loved. It’s available with Cooking with the Saints, the only other Institute cookbook but by different authors, for $54.99 or by itself for $29.95.
For a complete catalog of the Institute’s titles on a wide variety of subjects, click on www.sophiainstitutepress.com.