From ceremonial bread to popular delicacy: The story of medivnyk and its significance in Ukrainian culture

Do you have a sweet tooth and love trying unique delicacies? Then you won’t want to miss this fascinating article about the “medivnyk,” a honey cake that is the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind wedding tradition in Ukraine’s Velykyi Bychkiv village. You’ll learn about the symbolism behind the cake’s intricate decorations, how it is baked, and the history and modern-day relevance of this beloved custom.

The unique wedding custom of Velykyi Bychkiv village

Velykyi Bychkiv village, located in the Rahiv district of the Zakarpattia region, has a peculiar wedding custom. Instead of baking a traditional wedding korovai, they make an “embroidered” honey cake called “medivnyk“. This delicious traditional bread is intricately decorated with ornaments resembling Hutsul embroidered shirts. 

It is the only village in Ukraine where newlyweds break the medivnyk at the wedding and interpret the shape it has and the way it is baked as a sign of their future family’s destiny. The ornaments on each medivnyk are unique, encoded elements symbolizing a message to the newlywed family. In Rahivshchyna, they say creating two identical wedding medivnyks is nearly impossible.

The tradition’s origin and significance

Traditionally medivnyks were ordered by the maid of honor. The first medivnyk was brought to the church and placed on the table for the priest performing the wedding ceremony. The second one was brought to the place of marriage registration, and the third was placed on the table at the reception to be broken in half by the newlyweds at the end of the wedding. People believed whoever tears off the bigger piece of the medivnyk would live longer.

The origin of Bychkiv honey cake is not well-researched. People believe it originated from the ancient Austrian “Sacher” cake. In the past, medivnyks were not actually consumed because of their hard texture and a specific bitter taste. For the most part, this was ceremonial bread, and it was used as a home decoration after the wedding ceremony. Due to its high honey content, it could be stored for several years. 

Medivnyk in modern realities

Researchers cannot explain why the tradition of baking medivnyk has not spread beyond Veliky Bychkiv. It happened probably because the recipe was kept secret since some craftsmen were reluctant to share the knowledge of baking honey cakes even to their fellow villagers. 

When medivnyks are baked in other villages or abroad, it is only when someone from Velykyi Bychkiv gets married. Paradoxically, until recently, many people did not know about the Velykyi Bychkiv tradition, even in neighboring villages. However, in recent years, much information has appeared on the Internet and in the media, and the world has learned about this cake.

The secrets of baking a perfect medivnyk

It takes three days to make a medivnyk, and the baking process is a thorough job few people have the patience for. The medivnyk recipe includes 16 or more ingredients, including flour, eggs, dairy butter, sugar, honey, cocoa, yeast, ammonium, clove, cinnamon, vanilla sugar, and fruit horilka (Ukrainian alcoholic beverage). In addition, each master has their secrets.

First, the ingredients were carefully prepared and then the dough was well kneaded. Then, after baking medivnyk, you leave it to cool before you give it a shape. If it did not bake well or cracked, cooking troubles are interpreted as signs of how married life for the newlyweds will go. For example, if the dough “escapes”, the man or woman might leave the family. And if it cracks or breaks, there might be many trials.

Decorating the intricate medivnyk

Painting a large medivnyk takes 5 hours. The honey cake is decorated with “sklytsia” (chocolate glaze) and painted with icing. Traditional ornaments include four large diamonds symbolizing the cross and the four sides of the world. Smaller diamonds inside the large ones represent fertility. Tulips and lilies symbolize wealth; nets mean enclosed fences protecting against evil forces.

Medivnyk in modern culture

The traditional medivnyk has seen a decline in popularity in Velykyi Bychkiv. For a long time, young people have preferred classic wedding cakes. But 13 years ago, locals revived this tradition. And now people order and bake medivnyks for weddings and other holidays like birthdays, christenings, graduation parties, and anniversary celebrations. Some buy cakes as unique gifts. People often ask for specific patterns and colors or something unique, but the traditional medivnyk ornaments are still the best.

The tradition of baking the unique medivnyk in Velykyi Bychkiv village is an essential part of the region’s cultural heritage. It represents the peculiarities of the local wedding customs and beliefs, from preparing the honey dough to its symbolic decorations. Although it was not always consumed due to its hard texture and bitter taste, the medivnyk has become a popular delicacy that people order for various occasions. With the advent of technology and the Internet, the world has become more aware of this ancient tradition. It continues to be an integral part of the community’s cultural identity.