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.
This morning, I remember thinking, “it’s a good day to be a worm”. As I walked with Ella this morning in the pouring rain, the only other creatures outside were the worms. It was then I decided that we should have stew for dinner. But then, the sun came out at 1 pm.
Thankfully, I did my computer work early in the day, so when the skies lightened and the thermometer actually slipped into double digits I high-tailed it outside. The vitamin D did wonders for my mood and the look of the garden, after I finished trimming all the herbs.
I’m glad I had the ability to be so flexible in my day’s plans. Back in the days when I had an office job, I used to have to just pull the blinds up to soak in the rays. Today I even had time to stop and smell the flowers, hear the bees buzzing. Being self-employed has its advantages, especially in the shoulder season.
I did want to stay committed to dinner. I have a great cookbook for stew inspiration: Lobel’s Meat and Wine. It offers choices by meat type, with different themes based on recipes from various places in the world. Tonight I made a beef stew Provençale. The recipe is based on their Beef Stew Flavoured with Black Olives & Oranges, adapted for my tighter time schedule and ingredients on hand. We did still manage a nice local wine pairing.
I also got to chat with my brother today. We have had a tumultuous relationship over the years, running hot as great buddies or cold when we didn’t speak at all. These days, there is water under the bridge that doesn’t run smooth or clear, but we have found our way in the current and it feels good to have my oldest pal back. I suppose that speaks to the same theme of being flexible and committed, doesn’t it?
Life is about balance. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
We are rebuilding our front deck. Yesterday was demolition day, and today we loaded all the wood and other debris into a trailer for the landfill. And it’s Monday. There are always loose ends, and surprises, and a big to-do list on Mondays. So I decided we needed a boost.
One of my favourite desserts as a kid was my mom’s Chocolate Pudding Cake. I have spoken of Mom’s Lemon Pudding Cake before; it is a delicate, tangy soufflé. The chocolate version is on the other end of the scale – rich with oozing decadence, the original lava cake.
The good news is, pudding cake is easier to manage than lava cake, being a bigger entity. It’s a straightforward recipe to assemble. The trickiest part is planning to have the first portion warm, but to wait long enough so you don’t burn your tongue.
As I finish this last paragraph, my tummy is all warm inside. I feel a bit like Winnie the Pooh after polishing off a pot of honey. The muscles I worked out lifting boards and branches feel a bit better. I am sure I will have pleasant dreams.
I hope you do too. If not, try making Chocolate Pudding Cake tomorrow.