Hot Cross Buns - Easter Food, The Widow's Son and Paris Riots
It's almost Easter and English shops are full of hot cross buns. These spiced buns with a piped white cross on their top are traditional English Easter food but what is the history, besides the obvious connection with the crucifixion of Christ, of this spicy, sweet teatime treat?
It is thought that the tradition of eating spiced cakes as part of spring festivals goes back as far as ancient Greek times but their association with Easter in England seems to have been cemented in Tudor times when a law was brought in that only allowed their consumption on Good Friday, Christmas and at burials.
In the 18th century the tradition of incising and then later piping a pastry cross on the buns seems to have taken off and they were often sold in the streets by cake hawkers who would sing out the song, now learned by all English nursery school children, "One a penny, Two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!". The great lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, is said to have taken hot cross buns for breakfast on Good Fridays and the tradition continues.
Some believe that hanging a hot cross bun over the door to the house brings good luck to the household but this tradition is not now widely practiced with most choosing to enjoy their buns hot and smothered in butter with perhaps a cup of tea. The tradition however lives on at the London pub The Widow's Son which conducts a Hot Cross Bun ceremony every Good Friday. The ceremony dates back to the early 19th century when a widow was expecting her sailor son to return home. She hung up a hot cross bun to welcome him home but he never returned. Every year since that day successive landlords right up to this day have hung a hot cross bun in memory of the widow and her act of hope for her son's return.
The cross on the bun reminds us of the crucifixion of Christ but some feel that the current practice of some supermarkets to sell hot cross buns it seems almost the whole year round debases the underlying tradition and cultural, social, spiritual meaning of the hot cross bun.
Ignoring the accepted history of the hot cross bun, the Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John, claims cross-marked buns were invented in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans by a monk Father Thomas Rockliffe. Dr John says that the monk developed an original recipe for sweet spiced buns with a cross incised in them in 1361 and distributed them to the local poor on Good Friday. Jeffrey John is himself a pioneer not only in the reaffirmation of the hot cross bun as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but also in that in 2003 he was the first person to have openly been in a gay relationship to be nominated as a Church of England bishop.
Another hot cross bun controversy hit the UK in 2003 when many local authorities banned schools from serving hot cross buns in case they caused offence to non-Christians.
For those who have never tried one perhaps this year you'll get to taste one and if you live in area where you can't buy hot cross buns maybe you could have a go at making your own: Hot Cross Bun Recipe
Hot Cross Buns featured in a Sexton Blake detective story The Hot Cross Bun Murders published in Detective Weekly, April 1935. The mind boggles as to how murder most foul was committed with a hot cross bun.
That the hot cross bun contributed in someway to the rise of the situationist movement and so ultimately the Paris student riots of 1968 adds another twist to the long history of this delicious easter food - the hot cross bun. Here are some modern day Australian psychogeography buffs going walkabout down under: All In The Mind
The Haste family from Nacton, Suffolk, UK believe they have the oldest hot cross bun in the world at 111-years-old. They keep it in a box and pass it down from generation to generation in memory of a family member who died in 1899 aged 13. "The bun was the last thing she tasted before dying. Apparently she put it to her lips but said she didn't feel like eating it." said a family member.
The Haste's claim to have the oldest hot cross bun in the world is disputed by a Linconshire family the Titmans who claim to have a 189-year-old hot cross bun baked on Good Friday in 1821. There was a belief that hot cross buns actually baked on Good Friday would not go mouldy and when saved could be ground and placed on wounds which would then be miraculously cured.
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Loughborough, Leicestershire, United Kingdom