Hot Cross Buns

One a penny, two a penny!

I love hot cross buns. I never had one until a friend's family had me over for Easter. A sweet roll with currants or raisin, though not overly sweet. My friend's family makes them every year, and I think it's a tradition that I should start too. Curious about the cross on the hot cross bun, I looked up some history.

Here is what I found, straight from the source. I will admit right now that I can be a bit of a food nerd at times, and I enjoy learning about where foods come from, and if there is any significance behind recipes. The following is both history and a bit about the superstitions surrounding the very tasty hot cross bun.

In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning with the evening of Shrove Tuesday(the evening before Ash Wednesday) to Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion.

The ancient Greeks may have marked cakes with a cross. Some have claimed a connection with the goddess Eostre, but there is no historical evidence to support this; Bede, the sole source to mention Eostre, says nothing about her attributes or ceremonies.

In the times of Elizabeth I of England (1592), the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. The punishment for transgressing the decree was forfeiture of all the forbidden product to the poor. As a result of this decree, hot cross buns at the time were primarily made in home kitchens. Further attempts to suppress the sale of these items took place during the reign of James I of England/James VI of Scotland (1603-1625).

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or mold during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.

An advertisement announcing the sale of hot cross buns for Good Friday in a Hawaii newspaper:

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time, so some say they should only be cooked one at a time. Because there is a cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.

So, this history is a little mixed up, and there is no factual data to suggest that hot crossed buns and more specifically the cross, bears any significance as a symbol to the resurrection of Christ, thus included in the Easter celebration. I do believe that traditions are what you make of them however, and that could include many foods that we celebrate with. If for you the cross means something, or has some significance, then roll with it. If it doesn't, then they are still a very yummy treat!

I do love the saying of friendship, "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be". I think it's a great reminder of goodwill and kindness. How do you celebrate the Easter holiday in your family? Do you have any traditions or traditional food you serve?


    Sharon Ng
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2012
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