Main content

Holy Food

Tim Hayward looks at the tradition of monastic food production, with stories from Sicily, New York and from closer to home.

Tim Hayward looks at the tradition of monastic food production, with stories from Sicily, New York as well as from closer to home.

Ever since the 6th century rule of St Benedict said that monastic orders should be self- sufficient, monks and nuns have taken to the land and to the kitchens to produce food and drink for sale. Tim introduces us to some specific examples of how that tradition is thriving today. Giorgio Locatelli and food historian Mary Taylor Simeti explain how an array of recipes for sublime biscuits and pastries made by Sicilian nuns have survived for centuries, due in no small way to a woman called Maria Grammatico who went to live in a convent where Nuns would live out their final days. She would collect their recipes and she went on to become one of the most famous makers of Sicilian pastries. Giorgio Locatelli lovingly recreates some of those sumptuous treats in his Locanda restaurant today. We visit the New Skete Nuns in New York who have featured in the New York Times and Vanity Fair with their famous cheesecakes. Tim talks to food historian Annie Gray who reminds him of the overall impact of the monastic orders on food production but who also cautions us not to get too carried away with the idea of continuity. We hear from the writer, Madeline Scherb, who went on her own pilgrimage around the world to cook and pray with some monks and nuns; recalling the chanting of the Hail Mary on a caramel production line. She explains how St Benedict himself was not able to persuade his own monks to abstain completely from alcohol, and so the tradition of producing liquors of all sorts is one of the longest surviving strands of monastic production. In the UK, that includes the famous Ampleforth abbey ciders and beers. And there's Buckfast tonic wine from Devon; a drink that has attracted controversy in some areas. Join Tim Hayward as he raises a glass to a tradition of monastic food production that appears to be alive and kicking.

Producer: Sarah Langan.

Available now

28 minutes



Role Contributor
Presenter Tim Hayward
Interviewed Guest Giorgio Locatelli
Interviewed Guest Mary Taylor Simeti
Interviewed Guest Annie Gray
Interviewed Guest Madeline Scherb
Producer Sarah Langan


The Food & Farming Awards 2018

Tell us about the food and drink heroes who should win.

Download this programme

Subscribe to this programme or download individual episodes.

Can comfort foods really make you feel better?

Yes they can, says Sheila Dillon.