#AdventCalendar Day 7: Tudor Lovers’ knots

Ingredients: 2 medium eggs; 220 grams of white flour; two cups of honey (the clearest the better, simple acacia honey will do) 100 grams of caster sugar; clear water; a curl of butter; half a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon; a small cup of seeds (you can choose between sesame, caraway or poppy seeds). Recipe: Beat […]


  1. 2 medium eggs;
  2. 220 grams of white flour;
  3. two cups of honey (the clearest the better, simple acacia honey will do)
  4. 100 grams of caster sugar;
  5. clear water;
  6. a curl of butter;
  7. half a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon;
  8. a small cup of seeds (you can choose between sesame, caraway or poppy seeds).


Beat the eggs together with the sugar, add the cinnamon and then flour, little by little, so the dough will not make lumps. When you’re done kneading, make long thin rolls 1 cm wide and 10 cm long, like you would do to make pretzels. Tie them into knots, and if you need inspiration, I suggest you take a look at recreations of Tudor’s gardens.

Picture taken from here.

After you’re done shaping your knots, simmer them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, minding that they float. If they stick to the pan, you’re screwed.

After 2 minutes, remove them with a flat strainer (I’m sure it’s not called that way), and leave them to drain either on a cloth or on some kitchen paper. Grease a baking tray with some butter, put the knots in the preheated oven and bake until they’re golden brown. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

While the knots are still hot, take the honey and brush them abundantly with it. Sprinkle with the seeds. To suit all your guests’ tastes, I suggest you divide the seeds and make some with sesame, some with poppy seeds, and some with caraway.

Here‘s a video, if you prefer them. Sometimes they’re also called Jumbles, and you see them referenced as such in this recipe.

That Sesame opening doors

While translating the 1001 Nights between 1704 and 1714, the French archaeologist and orientalist Antoine Galland took many liberties. One of them was introducing a tale not technically from the original collection, the famous tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, which he had heard directly from the Syrian storyteller Hanna Diyab. The tale, as you might recall, features the famous magic formula “Open sesame!”, which became a way of speech. What you might not know, since very few people have actually read the story, is that Ali Baba’s brother forgets the formula and tries possibly any other seed known to men, staying entrapped in the treasure cave.

Why Sesame?

There are many theories.

One of them comes from observation: the seeds of the sesame grow in containers or pods which spontaneously break open when they reach maturity, in their own little spectacular way: a good connection with the opening of a door to a treasure, don’t you think?

The reason might also be connected with the seed’s Indian origins and the custom of using it as a purifier and a symbol of immortality during funerary ceremonies and cleansing rites. During funerals in particular, after the body of the deceased has been cremated, the people attending the funeral bathe themselves in the nearby river and leave two handfuls of sesame seeds on the shore as a viaticum, a tribute that the dead can spend while journeying to the next life.
In the Brahma Purana, one of the eighteen major Hindu texts in the Sanskrit Language, it is said that the sesame was created when drops of sweat fell from the eyebrow of Vishnu and fell on earth. Yama, god of the dead, later blessed them and declared them a symbol of immortality. Amongst the domestic Vedic rituals listed in the Āçvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra, a funerary prayer is dedicated to the sesame and it goes like this:

Oh sesame,
consecrated to Soma,
created by the gods during the great sacrifice
and carried by them;
bring joy to the dead,
to every world,
and to ourselves.

During the expiation celebration in honour of Bhisma, a demigod hero of the epic Mahabharata, people make offerings to the gods consisting of water, sesame and rice. If one forgets to make this single offering, they lose all the good karma accumulated throughout the year.

So yeah, if you want Tudor Lovers’ Knots to ensure eternal life, go with sesame.

What about caraway?

If sesame is all treasure and immortality, cumin was called karón by the Greeks, and it was a symbol of pettiness: if you wanted to say that someone was really, really greedy, you’d say he split a grain of caraway, and Dione Cassio tells us that the people nicknamed Anthony “cumin” because of his obsession to money.

For some reason, however, the same plant came to symbolise friendship: according to Plutarch, caraway came to be compared to salt, and salt was an important ingredient in welcoming friends to your house. You get distracted for a couple of centuries, and caraway becomes a charm to bind people to you and your house: in Bologna, people used to give caraway to pigeons so that they wouldn’t depart from the house (and why would one want that, really escapes me), and those friends who just wouldn’t leave are called “caraways”. In Piedmont, young girls used to sneak caraway into pastries for their fiancées, to ensure fielty. It wouldn’t work with me, since I hate the stuff.

During the Middle Ages it was also considered a medicine: Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the Sibyl of the Rhine, recommends it for people who have troubles breathing, to make cheese more digestible, and she gives us a recipe against nausea:

1 part of caraway, 1/3 part of black pepper, 1/4 part of anise seeds (which she calls pimpinella, but it’s the same thing), ground everything together. Take some grated bread, add most of the powder keeping a pinch for later, add one egg yolk, a little water to keep everything together, knead the dough and cook it either in the over or beneath the ashes.
Sprinkle on top of the warm bread the pinch of powder you kept before, and eat it against nausea.

The custom of adding caraway to wine comes from the Reinassance, and it was often employed with the same antiemetic usage Hildegard suggests, but it was enriched with another mystical property that might have been very popular in such a time: to protect against the bites of venomous animals. It’s only in Germany however that they took matters a bit too far and caraway is used to flavour a liquor called kümmel. It’s my nemesis.

In some parts of Central Europe, bread with cumin was also used to protect people from devils and witches when crossing a forest, in some parts of central Italy, but it only worked if you either made or bought the stuff: on thieves, it would have the opposite effect.

So yeah, for a Tudor Lovers’ Knot that will really knot your lover, go with caraway.

Franz Eugen Köhler (1897)

What about poppy seeds?

Well, poppy is a more complicated matter, and we will see it another time.

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