Did you have hot cross buns for breakfast today? I did. Do you know why we have them at Easter? I remember the rhyme from childhood, but I must admit that not having a religious upbringing I didn’t know the history of this seasonal sweet bun. As I sat munching and sipping my tea this morning I did some research, and I figured I can’t be the only one who didn’t know all the tidbits I found. So, here you go – new knowledge for your brain.
Let’s start at the beginning: Easter Sunday is the celebration at the end of Lent, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period before Easter, starting on or about Ash Wednesday (depending on your religion), and ending just before Easter. It signifies the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the desert, and those observing Lent solemnly honour his sacrifice by many activities that seek to bring them closer to God. Fasting as Jesus did, or giving up luxuries in life is usual for the faithful during Lent; prayer, penance and repentance are also common. Hence the common expression, “giving up (something) for Lent”.
The Lenten fast of ancient times was much more broad and strict than it is today, in some places allowing only bread in one’s diet, but for most removing all animal products and allowing no meals until later in the day or the evening. Nowadays, a fast usually involves a full meal and up to two “collations” – sustenance to keep one going, but not so much as to count for a full meal. Some people do not fast but do remove meat from their diets, either for all of Lent or at least on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. Lent ends either on Good Friday, or at midday on Easter Saturday, depending on your faith.
Since no animal products were allowed during Lent, sweet breads (containing milk, eggs and/or butter) would not be on the menu. Therefore, hot cross buns would be eaten at the end of Lent. They are not just a random treat, either – the cross on the top signifies the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices represent those used to embalm him for his funeral. The first hot cross bun was apparently baked by a monk in medieval times.
The solemn nature of hot cross buns is not to be taken lightly – in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I actually forbid their sale on any day but holy days (Good Friday, Christmas, or for funerals). The punishment for selling them was to have all your product donated to the poor. James I of England did the same thing in the 1600’s; for many years you could not find a hot cross bun recipe, as the buns were only made in secret by home bakers. The first modern record of them is a written account of street sellers hawking them in the 1700’s, the source of the nursery rhyme I remember:
Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!
Of course, as with most things that carry such significance there are many bits of folklore attached to hot cross buns. Did you know…
- hot cross buns are said to have healing powers? If you give one to someone who is sick, it can help make them better (perhaps this comes from sharing them with those less fortunate?)
- hot cross buns don’t go bad? If you hang one in your kitchen on Good Friday, it will bode for good breads all year long, and keep your house safe from fire and bad spirits. (the preserved fruit would help keep the bun fresher, but I’m not sure I would keep it up for a full year.)
- hot cross buns are full of luck? Taking one on a sea voyage will prevent a shipwreck, and it is said that friends sharing a bun will have a strong bond of friendship in the coming year. (Any hope against shipwreck was probably worth trying; as for friendships, well who wouldn’t want a pal that shared their treat?)
Although I don’t observe any traditional religion, I do certainly believe that sharing oneself with loved ones and in the community is important. I also believe that to be a good person requires thoughtfulness and focus. As such, I can understand the importance of Easter and appreciate its solemn history.
So, in honour of Easter, may you enjoy every moment. Whether you celebrate a feast day that is at the centre of your faith, or your family, or both, I wish you well this Easter weekend.
Peace be with you.
April Fool’s Day is coming up this week, and so I thought I would use that as inspiration to be a bit goofy. It could be cabin fever – the delayed arrival of spring has made me a bit stir-crazy. I don’t know about you, but I just feel that a little bit of whimsy is the best way to weather the storm.
Hopefully you will forgive the lack of nutritional value in this week’s recipes and take pleasure in knowing this topic give you water cooler fodder for the week to come!
Did you know that a real seasonal spring food is Peeps? They are a traditional sweet made by a company called Just Born, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; they come most commonly in the form of baby chicks. If you have never seen or heard of Peeps, check the Easter section of the larger grocery stores. If you’d like to see how Peeps are made, you can check out this factory video:
Peeps have a very loyal following, with some people taking their appreciation to quite imaginative heights! There are even such Peep pastimes as Peep Jousts (arm your Peep with a toothpick under his wing for a lance, then put him in the microwave with another combatant and after placing your wagers on the winner, push the ON button. The winner is the one that expands enough to engulf his unwitting enemy.) I could have posted a video on this, but I prefer that you imagine the fun…
There is Peep art – patterns of the charming little fellows glued on canvas that sell for hundreds of dollars. (Peeps do come in an array of colours, allowing for numerous permutations in design, so it’s not as silly as you might think.)
Simple indulgence in Peeps is ample goofiness, and you needn’t feel guilty eating them. They are only 32 calories each, and there are 350 million of them made each year, so they are certainly not endangered.
I suppose if you prefer natural foods, you could just stick to regular marshmallows. Did you know they have been around for 200 years and that originally the root of the marshmallow plant was what made them sticky and gooey? This plant was also used to soothe sore throats. I don’t know if you could attest to a marshmallow doing that but it arguably does make you feel better when you eat one.
Whether you like them pre-stuck to Rice Krispies in a square or roasted over an open flame will not diminish the smile that seems to get stuck on your face after eating them.
I have a few final notes for you if you choose to let whimsy strike and indulge in the spongy confection…
- Beware anyone brandishing a roasted marshmallow – flaming and sticky is not a very safe combination in the air.
- If you do get melted (or manhandled) marshmallow stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be, remember to remove it as soon as possible or it will become like Super Glue.
- The best remedy for unsticking marshmallow bits seems to be licking them off, so try to aim for something or someone you like. (If you use peanut butter, be sure to ask about nut allergies first.)
If you like your marshmallow inside something else, here’s a recipe that includes the other seasonal sweet – chocolate.
3/4 cup Callebaut chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
Zest of 1 full orange, grated on a “microplane” (fine grater)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups small Callebaut chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
2 cups miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Heat chocolate and butter in a pan slowly while stirring, until melted. Stir in sugar until melted and well blended. Cool the mixture 10 to 15 minutes.
Add eggs, orange zest and vanilla and stir until blended. Add flour, salt, and mix again. Add chocolate chunks and marshmallows, and pour into your pan.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until brownies spring back when touched in the centre of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you want to dress them up.
Happy April Fools’ Day 🙂 And if you’re saving yourself, Happy Easter!
Well, here we are, already at Easter. It’s good to know that spring is under way, and I feel like it’s time to celebrate and let loose. I watch my dogs get spring scents in their nostrils and their tails perk up, like they have inhaled a tonic. It seems children at Easter are the same, as they run and hunt for Easter eggs. Adults should have a dose of that, too.
Easter is a celebration that rates of the same magnitude as Christmas – there is much to be done for it to be heralded in with the appropriate amount of fanfare and indulgence. Whether you are celebrating the end of Lent or planning an Easter Egg hunt for the kids, it is and should be a big deal. Those just don’t materialize overnight!
Are you feeling like I am, that it seems you just put away the Christmas decorations and here you are trying to find a pastel-coloured tablecloth and napkin rings that match the tulips you bought? Does it irk you that you can’t decide which sheets to put in the spare bedroom so that it looks bright and springy? Well, the one saving grace is the reward that awaits us at the end of all the agonizing decisions… chocolate!
I am not trying to make light of what many consider to be a serious occasion but I must say that I for one enjoy the frivolity of Easter. Bunnytails and fuzzy chicks make me smile, and chocolate makes me smile even more. Jelly beans are one of the four Easter goodie food groups and that is not a bad thing either. It is the one time of year when the theme overrides the issue of quality; you can have just as much fun eating “peeps” as you can savouring artisanal chocolate bunnies made from estate cocoa beans and flavoured with some exotic spice (see my weekly Okanagan columnfor more on peeps). And, if you have to hunt for your Easter “loot”, then that is one more reason to enjoy every morsel, in celebration of following directions or solving the riddle given.
(One year when I was a kid we had a poem whose rhymes gave hints on where to find the eggs – it included a quote from MacBeth that was to lead us to the eggs hidden in the washing machine! You know, “Out out, damn spot!!”)
So, I may not get everything all ready for spring by this weekend, but I certainly plan to sample a jelly bean or two, and I promise to savour a chocolate bunny on Sunday night (eating the ears last, of course. Feel free to leave a comment on your preference about eating chocolate bunnies.) Next week there will still be time to work on the garden plan and dig the hole for the new quince tree, and the ironing of those lighter weight blouses can wait till after the company has left. I will watch the dogs bounce in the new grass and I might even check in the washing machine to see if the Easter Bunny remembered a long-ago hiding place. I hope you have the chance to take the time for such frivolous celebrations of life this weekend – you deserve it too!