Round and golden as the sun, filled with lush plump strawberries and perfumed with rose petals, this cake is inspired by Goddess Cuisine. I created it last year for Gather Victoria Patreon in honor of the Green Holyday (known today as Trinity Sunday). Its motifs mirror the sacred embroidered textiles known in Russia and Ukraine as rushnyk. Red is the color of life, strawberries signify fertility, good harvest, and growth, and red roses represent beauty, robust health, and vigor. The three leaves of the strawberry are thought to represent the three-fold Earth or Mother Goddess and the bright red fruit her fertility and abundance.
This Earth/Mother Goddess features centrally on rushnyk tied to birch trees by Russian, Slavic, and Baltic people during Green Holyday, Green Svyatki, or Green Christmas – long before the Orthodox Church shifted these rituals to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. (This year June 4th.) In Poland, it was usually the culmination of Green Week or ‘Zielone Świątki’ a series of holy days in which the Birch was venerated as the patroness, ancestor, and guardian of all living things and considered analogous to the Goddess often depicted as the Tree of Life with birds, roses, flowers, and vegetation growing in her arms/branches.
The Birch was central to ancient spring and summer “calling rites” involving girls and food. Known as Curling The Birch , baskets of food, eggs, round cakes, pastries, and pies were brought out to birch groves, a ceremonial tree chosen and “curled” i.e. decorating it with ribbons and rushnyk. Dances were held in a circle around the tree while singing sacred songs inviting in the summer. Birch wreaths and crowns were “curled” woven and used for blessings, to conduct divination, and more. Finally, the brought foods were ritually exchanged, from one girl to the next – through the birch wreath and then a grand picnic had by all.
Today these customs are still observed as part of Pentecost Sunday, although the birch garlands are now blessed on church altars in honor of the Holy Mother and rushnyk draped over her icons. Offering birch branches for the Holy Mother suggests her powers to help awaken new vegetation and new life in spring connect with ancient Goddesses identified with the birch in Slavic mythology.
Today in rural Saskatchewan rushnyk displayed at the Canora Ukrainian Heritage Museum contain a “spiritual language particularly connected to goddesses” such as Rozhanytsia, the Birth Goddess, source of all life, Berehynia Goddess of Protection, wealth, and harvest, and Mokosh Mother Moist Earth. According to folklore, Berehynia held the birch tree as sacred and Mokosh lived in a birch grove. Both are often seen pictured with birds. Mokosh brings the water of life embodying fertility, prosperity, protection, health, good luck, and abundance.
Mary B. Kelly, author of the Goddess Embroideries of Eastern Europe suggests that rushnyk are part of a spiritual heritage stretching back to the Neolithic Goddess cultures of Old Europe. Passed down from mother to daughter rushnyk “bound the female population together in what appeared once to be matrilocal and matrilineal associations”.
This brings me back to those age-old symbols of love, beauty, passion, and procreative power, the strawberry, and the rose. Strawberries were the sacred food of love goddesses from Venus, Aphrodite to Freyja, credited with inducing love and producing offspring.
Later the strawberry became associated with the fruitfulness of the Virgin Mary – along with the rose. They are often pictured in her sacred gardens. In Latin countries Pentecost Sunday is often called “ Feast of Roses” or “Rose Sunday” and releases rose petals from the ceiling to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the dove.
These are a few of the matrilocal and matrilineal associations I’ve called on for this Strawberry Rose Cake. And did I mention it’s super easy to make? May its magic bless you with beauty, health, happiness, and abundance this summer.
Strawberry Rose Cake
- 2 cups of flour
- 1/4 cup of melted butter
- 3/4 cup of rose sugar *
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup of buttermilk
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon of salt
- 2 cups of strawberries halved
- powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350˚. Grease a 9-inch cake springform pan.
- In a medium-large bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, and rose sugar for about 1 minute until the sugar is well incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
- Add buttermilk, vanilla extract, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Whisk until smooth.
- Sprinkle the flour over the top and whisk until the mixture is smooth and the lumps have disappeared. Transfer half of the mixture to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Press half of the berries into the batter, then add the remaining batter and smooth the surface. Top with remaining berry halves (cut side down) evenly and press them down just slightly into the batter.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before releasing it from the pan.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
* Every year I harvest the season’s first roses and make rose sugar. This delightful confection is made simply by whirring an equal amount of sugar and fresh rose petals together in a food processor, then it is added straight to your recipe. Use any roses, as long as they’re fragrant! You can find detailed instructions on cooking with roses (and a ton of recipes) in the Summer Edition of the Gather Victoria E-Cookery book.