“Spring has arrived, we will survive!” Old Romanian Saying
Banish winter, bless the coming of spring, and ensure your face remains beautiful all year with these Rosehip & Raspberry Jam Spirals! They are my edible cookie version of the red and white magical talismans woven by Babas (old women or grandmothers) each March in Eastern European countries. In Romania (home to several generations of my paternal ancestry) these talismans are called Mărțișor, and are given out on Baba Docia’s Day on March 1st to the special women in one’s life and today have become associated with March 8th, International Women’s Day.
The mărțișor represents the thread of the days in the year as spun by Baba Dochia (the Old Dochia). Red is said to represent the summer, the heat, while white represents the winter, the cold. Baba Dochia spun the thread of one’s life, along with the Fates. White thread stood for wisdom and red for good health, which means that receiving a mărțișor will grant you plenty of both throughout the new year.
In Bulgaria, these talismans are called Martenitsa and are gifted to loved ones, friends, neighbors, family, and even pets and farm animals on Baba Marta’s (Grandmother March) Day, March 1st. These are given while saying “Chestia Baba Marta!” or “ be white and red”, meaning be healthy and beautiful!
Mărțișor or Martenitsa could be worn at the throat, in hair or as a simple thread bracelet on the wrist, either way, they granted the Baba’s blessings of fertility, long life, happiness, beauty, and protection against illness and evil spirits. In Bulgaria, they are worn for nine days, then tied to the branch of a blossoming tree to bring themselves and the tree health and luck. Making a wish while hanging the Martenitsa makes it come true – so trees festooned with Martenitsas are a common sight in the spring. In Romania, Moldova, and Transylvania, the Mărțișor, is worn by young women for 7 to 12 days after which it is thrown in the air for the cranes or storks to catch so they will have good luck.
The ritual practice of twisting colored threads is said to date back more than 8,000 years and according to this wonderful research source on all things Martenitsa, was spread across Old Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. Some of the earliest traditions can be traced to Paleo Balkan shamanic traditions of Siberia where woven talismans are still routinely used by the shaman — often older women – for healing and protection from evil.
Baba Dochia is often linked to an earlier Thracian Earth Mother goddess believed to be connected to the Greek Mother goddess Demeter, Artemis of Espuheis and the Anatolian Mother Goddess Cybele, (pictured above) all of which featured woven thread talismans in their sacred rites. Wherever these charms and amulets are found, they are considered “loaded with the power of the goddess and had the function of keeping everyone and everything healthy and fit in this busy time of the year.”
Traditionally it was the duty of the Babas or older women in the family to weave these charms and to charge them with magical power by means of specific spells. “This is reflected in their alternative names of baenitsa, from “baya”, to cast spells, and kitenitsa, kichilka from “kitja, kicha”to decorate. Threads had to be spun to the left opposite to the direction for spinning of the yarn for everyday needs. In some regions, a gold or silver coin is woven in, and after a certain length of time, women use the coin to buy red wine and sweet cheese so that their faces would remain beautiful and white as cheese and rubicund as the wine, all year.” Now that was a bit of food magic to my liking!
This inspired me to do a little baking, and after some culinary research, I discovered Mucenici or măcinici” a twisted figure-eight pastry filled with nuts and honey and traditionally made on March 9th. In Christian tradition, this is the feast of 40 Saint Martyrs from Sevastia but in Romanian tradition, the days between the 1st – 9th of March were called Babele (Old Women Days). So for my “Babele” pastries, I envisioned weaving white dough with red jam filling together as an edible version of “be red and white”, healthy and beautiful! I wanted to use one of the natural specialties of the region, rosehip jam. Magically the rose hip is a symbol of youth, love, and beauty and in folk medicine, rose hips are used to increase vitality and health.
However, things didn’t work out as planned. While they tasted delicious, once baked they lacked the discernible vivid red and white colors of the woven thread charm. So I finally settled on the simplest solution, the classic super-easy spiral cookie. I used a firm buttery cookie dough, spread it with rosehip and raspberry jam (for its vibrant color), rolled it up, and let it firm in the fridge for an hour – sliced and baked. Voila. Baba March Magic!
If you don’t have rosehip jam on hand, you can likely find it in an Eastern European or German Deli, sometimes larger grocery stores will carry it in the Ethnic Foods aisle. Other options are using dried pre-prepared rosehips to make jelly – here is a great link! If all fails just use another brightly colored red jam like strawberry or red currant jelly (also very popular in Eastern European cuisine!)
One final note when comes to March magic. March is an important time for cleansing and purification in preparation for the vitalizing energy of spring. It’s very important to have the house “spic and span” because if Baba Marta wasn’t pleased with your housekeeping she’d send more bad wintry weather – which is why March is the month for spring cleaning! But if Baba Marta is happy “you’ll find her smile reflected in the warming sun”. And I’m pretty sure leaving a platter of pretty red and white cookies will make her smile all the broader!
Red & White Spring Spirals w/Rosehip & Raspberry Jam
Recipe excerpted from the Spring Magic Edition of the Gather Victoria ECookery Book.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 & 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
- 1/4 cup rosehip jam or jelly *
(* If you don’t have rosehip jam on hand, you can find it in most Eastern European or German Deli, sometimes larger grocery stores will carry it in the Ethnic Foods aisle. Other options are using dried pre-prepared rosehips to make jelly – here is a great link! )
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just combined.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch by 9-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread jam evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border at the sides. Starting on the long side, roll the dough tightly to seal. Wrap in a tea towel or wax paper and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut dough into 1/4 in. slices; place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-13 minutes, until just beginning to turn golden. Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes; remove and place on a cookie rack to cool completely.