Hot Cross Buns
This guest post comes from our friend and food writer Lily Stoicheff.
'Tis the season for pennies!
You have probably heard: "One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!" But did you know that sharing a hot cross bun on Good Friday will ensure friendship throughout the year? “Half for you and half for me and throughout the year good friends will we.”
Round, golden, freckled with currants and marked with a cross, hot cross buns are commonly eaten on Good Friday and Easter. The not-too-sweet dough spiced with cinnamon and allspice makes an appropriate dessert to end the Lenten fast. But these powerful little pastries are more mystical than their unassuming appearance might let on, and have been a symbol of springtime and new life for thousands of years. Archeologists uncovered two small loaves dating from 79 CE in Herculaneum in southwest Italy, each marked with a cross.
A cross is marked in the top of the bun, either molded with hot pastry before baking, drizzled in icing, or simply scored with a knife. This ancient mark denotes a holy offering which replaced the offering of blood with one of bread. To Christians, the cross represents Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. To Celts, the cross symbolizes the intersection of Earth and Heaven, the human and divine. It could also be a solar cross whose corners represent the four seasons
In addition to being a symbolic treat to end the Lenten fast and welcome the spring goddess Eostre, hot cross buns were said to have magical powers. Buns baked on Good Friday were said to never go stale. Hung in your kitchen, they would prevent evil spirits from ruining your bakes for the coming year. Taking one with you on a sea voyage would protect you from storms. They were even ground up and used for medicinal purposes.
A common Christian origin story for hot cross buns says that a monk at St Albans Abbey, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, distributed them to the local poor on Good Friday in the 14th century.
In 1592, Queen Elizabeth decreed that hot cross buns could only be sold on Easter, Chirstmas Day and for funerals because, allegedly, they were too special to be sold on any other day. Perhaps it had more to do with the Protestant queen’s efforts to disenfranchise her Catholic subjects, who were known to bake these symbolic buns with a bit of sacramental bread inside.
The first written record comes from a London street cry, “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one a penny, two a penny hot cross buns,” recorded in an Almanac in 1733.