An ancient tradition survives in the hills of Slovenia’s Upper Carniola province - intricately decorated “honey breads” that have long been used to mark important celebrations, and are now becoming highly sought-after souvenirs.

The honey breads – named for the highland village of Dražgoše (“dražgoški kruhki”) or the medieval town of Škofja Loka (“škofjeloški kruhki”) – resemble gingerbread at first glance. However, they are made using local honey rather than ginger, and their recipe has remained unchanged for centuries.

The circumstances of their arrival to the Slovenian lands remain unclear. It’s likely that they were introduced from other parts of the Hapsburg Empire. Whatever their origins, they were already known in Upper Carniola by the late 17th century. At first, they were made exclusively by the local nuns, but soon the craft began to spread to the surrounding communities.

A growing number of molds - some brought in from other parts of Austria, others made in Slovenia from pear wood - ensured a great variety of honey bread shapes and sizes. Some local women made hundreds or even thousands of molds, each featuring a different pattern. Two shapes, however, turned out to be the most popular: hearts and crescents.

Each January 6th, young people would mark Epiphany by purchasing honey breads from stalls set out in front of churches. By tradition, young men bought hearts for the girls, while the girls bought crescents for the boys.

The honey bread season lasted all winter. Local women would spend much of the cold season baking their creations using their secret recipes featuring precisely the right proportions of honey, flour, and salt. For decades, the craft of making honey breads was passed down from generation to generation.

The 20th century and the advent of a new, fast-paced lifestyle changed everything. Honey breads eventually disappeared from the towns, and they soon became rare in the countryside as well. Few housewives now had the time to make their own honey breads, and machines could never reproduce their intricate designs.

In recent years, however, more and more Slovenians have begun to rediscover their heritage – and the honey breads, made exotic by the passage of time – slowly became in high demand. The few women who still knew how to make honey breads by hand discovered that they could sell their creations to tourists looking for authentic souvenirs, businessmen looking for corporate gifts, or locals determined to support a craft that was once so typical in their part of the country. In an age when traditional delights are becoming a part of Slovenia’s national heritage, the intricately decorated honey breads, made using centuries-old methods, can be found everywhere from postage stamps and books to stands at village fairs.