When we traveled the length and breadth of Spain with three little boys in tow, a roll of Marías was indispensable. When the boys got a little frisky, they were soon calmed with this very healthy treat. They taste a little like animal crackers and are somewhat like English "digestible biscuits".
Marías are the essence of Spain. They are "as comforting as a trip to Grandma's house, and as familiar as a favorite teddy bear" is the way Deborah Luhrman summed up María cookies in an article in Gourmetour. Babies are often served Marías softened in milk as their first solid food.
Fifty years ago a whole generation or two of youngsters grew up singing the María songs that they heard on the most popular soap operas and game shows. No wonder Spanish families polish off cartons of Marías each week.
An interesting historical note: In 1875, the Grand Duchess María of Russia married the Duke of Edinburgh in a festive wedding, which caught Europe's fancy. To celebrate the occasion, a small English bakery in England created a sweet new cookie with Maria stamped on the top. Its popularity spread throughout Europe. Most of all, in Spain it became the nation's favorite cookie -- 40% of all cookies sold in the country.
Marías were first produced in large quantities in Spain around the turn of the 20th Century, but it was not until the Civil War that they became an integral part of the national culture. The long harsh years of the war plunged Spain deep into poverty, turning even a simple loaf of bread into a luxury. When the war ended in 1939, the nation's top priority was for every Spaniard to have enough bread. The wheat harvests were so plentiful that the bakers turned out huge number of cartons of Marías to consume the surplus. In those days, every café had a plate of Marías on the counter -- a happy sign of Spain's recovery.