The craft of gingerbread dates to the Middle Ages, primarily to convents and monasteries across Europe, where nuns and monks worked diligently to produce votive candles, gingerbread cookies, honey-based beverages, and wax, among other things.
From the very beginning, these hand-crafted products were sold at fairs and church feasts. Thanks to the appeal of gingerbread cookies, the stands selling them along with mead always had a special, picturesque ambiance. As the craft made its way to Croatia, it was slowly taken up by laymen and became a trade, and thus a wonderful tradition was born in northern Croatia. Mostly men produced these items: licitari, as they were called, were well-respected craftsmen, and each showed his own particular style in the sugar-paste decorations applied on the surface. The gingerbread tradition continues to this day, particularly in Zagreb, Karlovac, Varaždin, Samobor, Koprivnica and Marija Bistrica, Croatia’s largest shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Probably the most beautiful souvenir you can buy in northern Croatia takes only a few ingredients to make: water, flour, honey, eggs, and yeast (there’s actually no ginger in the classic recipe!). Its shape, the heart, is no coincidence – these traditional items are made with lots of love, and the knowledge of producing them has been carefully preserved and passed down through the centuries in their original form.
The natural white, yellow, and green pigments were based on secret recipes and were used to dip the licitar hearts into after they were baked. The distinctive red color became specific to gingerbread products originating in these regions. Through hard work and long tradition, licitar hearts became a unique and colorful symbol of Croatia and a classic souvenir. The pretty licitar products, which can be in the form of wreaths, horseshoes, mushrooms, birds or horses, can be further decorated with small mirrors and messages of love. These reveal the true creativity of the artists.
The handmade copper gingerbread molds are the most precious utensils of the gingerbread maker. The unique shapes of the molds are what have made licitar cookies so recognizable. This is why the molds are kept in the family, passed down from generation to generation.
The licitar heart is one of the most beautiful gifts to share with a loved one and is also a sign of loyalty. They are primarily intended for giving on special occasions. The tradition of giving a licitar heart is a means for a young man to express his love for a woman. It has been immortalized in the famed ballet by Krešimir Baranović, licitarsko srce (gingerbread hearts), performed on stages around the world.
Nicely packaged licitars are suitable for gift-giving and sending to the world’s farthest parts. They are available in Zagreb shops selling gifts, souvenirs, and handicrafts.
Don’t wait for a special occasion to give someone a licitar heart as a present!