As we head towards Easter, the shops are full of hot cross buns, of all sorts of different and sometimes strange flavours. Here are a couple of things I wrote some time ago about them:
One of the great delights of Easter is hot cross buns; to my mind they should only be eaten on Good Friday, unless you are testing the different makes leading up to the date to make sure you have the best on the actual day…. ok so this does involve eating a lot of h.c.b’s (hot cross buns) with lots of butter, but it’s all in the interests of the perfect bun on the day! The only other time I think these seasonal specialities should be eaten is, if by chance you’ve bought to many and some are put in the freezer, or if you go to coffee with a friend and she offers you one…
The tradition of making special or significant patterns or marks on bread or other baked goods is very ancient and goes across all cultures. There was certainly Anglo-Saxon bakers making patterned or marked bread here in England, and through the Middle Ages so it continued. There was a mini-crisis at the time of the Civil War when the Puritans saw such things as Popish… however the hot cross bun survived. Thank goodness!
By the 1700s these buns were becoming more exotic and fancy, with different ingredients and speciality buns, much as they are today. Superstitions began to arise that buns actually baked on Friday could heal all sorts of ills, and if kept would continue to prevent or protect against disease. There was another tradition of nailing a hot cross bun to the kitchen wall… no doubt to ensure good fortune and plenty in the kitchen, but I have forgotten the precise details!
There is a pub in East London called the Widow’s Son; its name arises from an Easter tradition, and again I cannot remember the precise details in terms of dates. There was a widow with a son who became a sailor; as he left to go on a voyage he told his mother he would be home by Easter and asked r to keep him a hot cross bun. She put aside a bun, but the son didn’t return. This was in the days of sailing ships and no speedy communication, so the following year the mother again put aside a bun,hoping that this year her sailor-boy would return. He must have met his end somewhere because he never came home, but each year a bun was put aside. Eventually the woman died and her lowly home was demolished and a pub put up in its place,which was named… the Widow’s Son. The first Easter in the pub, the landlord remembered the old woman, and put aside a bun, and it became a tradition that was followed each year. Sailors learnt of the pub and visited, bringing the traditional bun, and these buns were placed in a net hanging from the ceiling.
Today if you visit the Widow’s Son, you will be pleased to notice that the custom still continues!
It’s Good Friday tomorrow and Good Friday to us pagans means hot cross buns! I’ve been looking through old newspapers again and came across an advert from 1824 –
J.Dean begs to advise his friends and the public that they may be supplied with Hot Buns on Good Friday; N.B. orders given on Wednesday previously will be attended to.
There was another advert for ‘Jones’s real hot cross buns‘ – real as opposed to what? There was an interesting little phrase ‘a goodly supply of hot crossed buns’ – I seem to vaguely remember some elderly people calling the spicy, curranty, sticky bins that when I was a child.
I then came across several amusing articles, all from the 1830’s and 40’s, about the consumption of hot cross buns:
Good Friday.— This holiday was ushered in by a more than usual quantity of hot cross buns, the munching of which, by the various urchins was truly gratifying to the looker-on, and still more so, we presume, to the urchins themselves, if one may judge by the self-contented, happy ‘physog’ of the little wights.
I am guessing that the urchins were just children, not necessarily ragamuffin street children. ‘Physog’ of course is face, from physiognomy – would young people today know what it was? I have never come across the term wights as used here – meaning kids, I guess. It actually means creatures, but of course many of us will think of the barrow-wights from Tolkien.
There was a report of a policeman arresting a dog for eating a shilling’s worth of hot cross buns which hadn’t been paid for, and its master clung to the dog and was brought before the magistrate as well as the bun-filled creature. The case was dismissed ‘and policeman laughed at for his pains’.
Then I came across the wonderful story of John Doyle – an individual occupying at the least, the rank of Grand Master, in the Ancient and Renowned order of Bacchanals.
I guess this was some sort of social club but he was arrested on Maundy Thursday;
Doyle was charged with on Thursday night having been guilty of alarming the propriety of Church-street, frighting several persons from their slumbers, and performing such extraordinary feats of eloquence and dancing.
Doyle admitted the charge of having .been a little intoxicated but stated that it arose from his having indulged rather too .largely in Hot Cross Buns, the chuffiness of which had so stuffed his chest that he was compelled to imbibe more than he ought, to prevent the disastrous effects of indigestion.
He was fined 7 shillings,. let that be a warning, do not over indulge in hot cross buns otherwise their chuffiness might have an adverse effect!