Alfie Venner spent the days before Christmas helping his parents with their wood-fired, sourdough-leavened bakery in Somerset. Part of his recollections :

On my breaks from mixing, stretching and shaping dough with the head baker, I helped mum weighing out the dried fruit for German Stollen bread and rolling out the 100g pieces of marzipan that get carefully rolled into the centre of each loaf. The rich dough that mum makes bears little resemblance to the first Stollen made in 13th Century Saxony from oil, flour, yeast and water. We have Pope Innocent VIII to thank for that; in 1490 he sent what has become known as the ‘butter letter’ to the Saxon Prince allowing the Saxons to use butter during Lent.

That seemed odd. Stollen is (and always has been?) a Christmas bread, so what’s Lent got to do with it? A little sleuthing turned up an article on Wikipedia that had some details. Advent was a fast period, just like Lent, and after a couple of rebuffs and five papal successions Pope Innocent VIII finally permitted the Prince-Elector of Saxony and his household to use butter, and the stollen we know and love was born.

Wikipedia says that the oil that went into stollen before the butter-letter was “expensive, hard to come by, and had to be made from turnips”. I suppose that it was an oil pressed from turnip seeds, or some other Brassica, but as Wikipedians are so fond of saying, “citation needed”. The online history of stollen leaves a lot to be desired. Are there any better sources?

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