Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Catholic Culture: Monastic Products

Here at The New Liturgical Movement, we have written often of the liturgical life of the Cistercian monks at Spring Bank Abbey in Sparta, Wisconsin, just down the road (at least in an astronomical sense) from me in Milwaukee. In addition to their continuing project to bring the sober beauty of the Cistercian tradition to the celebration of the various monastic offices, they have also revived another great bit of Catholic life, that of monastic goods and products. The monastery never begs, but only gives, to paraphrase one writer on the subject whose name escapes me at the moment.

Indeed, the "Laser Monks" of Spring Bank have become rather well-known for their foray into the realm of copier ink and toner, to the point of showing up on MSNBC and The Wall Street Journal--though considering much of the money goes back into maintaining the business, and a good bit of the rest goes to charity, I will note to our more skeptical readers that nobody out there is exactly living high on the proverbial hog.

The monks also practice some of the more traditional monastic crafts. Before the abbey packed up their foundation at Oconomowoc and moved west as they fleed suburban sprawl--they had a hand in developing a special liqueur, though its recipe has since been lost. In recent years, they have developed a line of quite wonderful little cakes through their Benevolent Bakery line. I was lucky to be given some samples this last fall, and I think the best endorsement I can give is that I brought them to my office Monday morning and by the end of the day they had all but vanished, save for some crumbs and a few bits of brandy-soaked cheesecloth.

I'm told that the monks have closed up the bakery for the season, having gotten all their Christmas orders out, but they will no doubt have the ovens fired up and running in the fulness of time. Their website currently shows two different kinds: Cistercian Brandy Cake and Old English Christmas, both of which I recall being quite good, though it appears they're out for the time being of my favorite, the St. Barbara Kirsch Cake, the cherry flavor of which recalls the various legends which link the saint to cherry blossoms. Not only is the monastic bakery a venerable Catholic custom, but also the rememberance of the martyrs through a delicious treat--the truth cooked in charity until it tastes sweet, as St. Francis de Sales used to say.

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