What does this have to do with history, you ask? Like most other things, shortbread has a history. It was invented sometime in the 12th Century by Scottish women who took leftover bread dough, sweetened it, and then dried it out in the oven to form something called a "rusk", a twice-baked biscuit. Over time, the yeast in the dough was traded out for butter, and that suddenly made this an expensive treat saved mainly for special occasions. Everyone loved it, including Mary, Queen of Scots, whose bakers refined the cookie to suit her tastes in the 16th Century. She was especially fond of a version called Petticoat Tails which were flavored with caraway seeds.
As to why January 6 was chosen for National Shortbread Day, I have been unable to find the answer. I wondered if Queen Mary's history had anything to do with it, but no, neither her birth nor death date is January 6, nor was the date of her ascension to the throne. So we will just be satisfied that today is the day and not worry about why. Any reason is a good one for eating shortbread.
One thing I like about shortbread is its versatility. You can pat it in a round cake pan and cut it into wedges after it is baked. You can pat it into an oblong pan and cut the finished cookies into fingers, triangles, or squares. You can roll out the dough and cut it into shapes before baking. You can stamp an emblem on it.
Add some chopped toasted pecans and you have pecan shortbread. Roll those into balls, and roll the baked cookies in powdered sugar and you have pecan sandies.
Exchange almond paste for some of the butter. Leave out the vanilla and add almond extract; brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle with sparkling sugar and sliced almonds. Suddenly your simple shortbread is almond shortbread.
Add the grated zest of a lemon instead of vanilla. Slather the cooked bars with a glaze made of the same lemon’s juice and some powdered sugar—iced lemon shortbread bars. (Warning: this is an adult cookie; kids are not crazy about it.)
Cut your plain old shortbread into fingers. Then, after baking and cooling, dip one end into melted semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate. Leave some plain chocolate. Dip others in chopped nuts before the chocolate sets. Plain shortbread has suddenly become elegant.
You can even use shortbread dough as the base for a layered dessert. Just bake it and cool it first, enough to cover a 9 x 13 pan. Add chopped nuts or not before baking as you please. The layers can be three or four of your choosing—various flavors and mixings of pudding, peanut butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, fruit pie fillings, drained crushed pineapple, sweetened whipped cream, chopped nuts, toasted coconut, chopped chocolate bars, whatever you can imagine. Chill and cut into layered squares, either light or rich, depending on your choices. And it all started with a base of butter, flour, and sugar.
Any time I hear someone say the Bible is no longer relevant, I think of shortbread. It doesn’t matter for which of life’s situations you need guidance, God’s word contains something to help you. Not only does it include the principles of marriage, but several real life examples as well—everything from good, sound marriages to marriages dealing with unfaithfulness and abuse. The same is true with childrearing. We are not stuck with abstract ideas like “raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” We have examples of parents who made a mess of things—favoritism, lack of discipline, provocation, poor teaching. We have parents who loved too much and in the wrong ways. And we have the results of all those mistakes in heartbreaking detail.
We have stories of neighbors who couldn’t get along and how they settled things. We have stories of servants (think “employees”) who served well, and those who didn’t, and what made the difference. We have stories of good masters (employers) and bad. We have stories of those who handled power well and those who did not. And if you can’t find exactly the same circumstances you need help with, “As you would that men should do unto you, do you also unto them,” covers a whole lot of territory, including email and cell phone etiquette.
Just as shortbread can fit any situation from a children’s lunch to a family meal to an elegant party, God’s word works no matter what situation you find yourself in. Keep a close eye out and I think you will find that people who think the Bible is irrelevant simply don’t want to follow its guidelines. It isn’t that God says nothing about their situation; it’s that they don’t like His solution.
But that is nothing new either. Ahab, one of the wickedest kings in Israel’s history, said of the prophet Micaiah, “I don’t like him because he never says anything good about me.” There was a way to fix that; Ahab just didn’t like the remedy.
God does not leave his children without guidance in every situation they might encounter. It is up to us to find that guidance and obey it.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness, Psalm 111:7,8.