Tuesday, 27 February 2007


When exactly did our holidays and festivals start getting l o n g e r and L O N G E R ?

Was it, perhaps, when we stopped believing in what we were supposed to be celebrating?

I ask this because it’s still five-and-a-half weeks until Good Friday and the Hot Cross Buns have been in the shops for the past fortnight! As indeed have been the Easter Eggs, which started to appear several weeks before that!

Now, as it happens, I’m really rather keen on Hot Cross Buns, but I do feel - apart from noting that the ready availability of such treats must be hard on those attempting to observe the season of Lent - that something is lost by being able to eat HCBs before, during and after Good Friday with such abandon.

I can still remember the excitement of the baker delivering the buns (13 if you ordered a dozen) on the day itself and then rushing to the kitchen to pop them under the grill…

And then the rich aroma of spices permeating the house and the butter melting and dribbling down your chin!

Small pleasures; still, in an era when radio on Good Friday virtually only broadcast church services, passion plays and sacred music and the most exciting thing on TV (if you had one, that is) was a screening of The Robe, such small pleasures were significant…

By the way, does anyone know why it was (according to the old song), "One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns"? There seems to be some confusion in that lyric as to the precise unit cost!


David Weeks said...

Your picture depicts, what supposedly are, HCB, but they are laced with icing sugar!

Whatever next?

Cafrine said...

In Oz, they shove Easter eggs into stores the second week in January. Santa first shows his face in July. Drives me insane. You know that bit in About A Boy where will cringes because he hears his Dad's horrid carol halfway through November? It's like that, only November is in February and instead of cringing, we pull our hair out.

P.S. I'll never be able to listen to Hot Cross Buns in the same way again! Awesome!

Scrooge said...

The availability of foods once restricted to certain times of the year probably comes down to mere profit making and our dislike nowadays for having any restrictions placed on anything we do.Can't say as I was overly aware of the HCB scoffing just at Easter when I was younger although I'm sure we participated. I was more interested in the arrival of Satsumas at Christmas which seemed to extend the tradition of giving oranges at that time of year. Now you can get them for a lot longer as well but eat them out of season and you'll immediately be punished because they're usually 'off'. Here's another thing we've lost. For thousands of years, mankind has relied on his eyes to judge whether food (like apples for instance) are fit for eating. A quick trip to the supermarket now will get you lots of lovely-looking, polished, out of season fruit that Snow White would have trouble resisting. Once you bite into it, its totally rotten. Can we believe our eyes anymore ?

Suzanne said...

Mmmm! I haven't had HCB's for years. Can't get them over here... which is probably just as well, with a combination of Lent and a post-Christmas diet!
As for the strange price strategy, I think my granma would probably have been able to help you there... in her day!

Brian Sibley said...

According to one web-site, CAFRINE, in Oz you can get HCBs with added chocolate and chocolate-chips instead of raisins... True??

I still haven't got to the bottom of the lyrics puzzle, though Wikipedia offers various versions of the lyrics (and, for DAVID) a more 'authorised'-looking bun)....

And the following detailed history of the HCBs is to be found on Eras of Elegance:

"Hot Cross Buns were traditionally served during the Lenten Season, especially on Good Friday. Their origins, however, like the Easter holiday, are mixed with pagan traditions.

"To the ancient Aztecs and Incas, buns were considered the sacred food of the gods, while the Egyptians and Saxons offered them as sacrifices to their goddesses. The cross represented the four quarters of the moon to certain ancient cultures, while others believed it was a sign that held supernatural power to prevent sickness. To the Romans, the cross represented the horns of a sacred ox. The word 'bun' is derived from the ancient word 'boun', used to describe this revered animal.

"The Christian church adopted Hot Cross Buns during their early missionary efforts to pagan cultures. They re-interpreted the 'cross' which adorns the bun to signify the cross on which Jesus sacrificed His life.

"Some historians date the origin of Hot Cross Buns back to the 12th century, when an Angelican monk was said to have placed the sign of the cross on the buns to honor Good Friday, known at that time as the 'Day of the Cross'. In 1361, a monk named Father Thomas Rocliffe, was recorded to have made small spiced cakes stamped with the sign of the cross, to be distributed to the poor visiting the monastery at St. Albans on Good Friday. According to the scholar Harrowven, the idea proved so popular that he made the buns every year, carefully keeping his bun recipe secret.

"According to tradition, Hot Cross Buns were the only food allowed to be eaten by the faithful on Good Friday. Made from dough kneaded for consecrated bread used at Mass or Holy Communion, and thus representative of Christ's body, Hot Cross Buns were also credited for miraculous healing and for protection.

[Just about every year, stories/urban myths turn up in the press about HCBs that have been found in a tin in an attic and are 90 years old but still as fresh as the day they were baked. Ed.]

"Throughout the years, Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday were used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses. In addition, many families hung the buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect their households from evil for the year to come. The tradition, however, suffered attack during the 16th century. During Queen Elizabeth I's reign, when Roman Catholicism was banned, 'backward-lookers' were reportedly tried for Popery for signing the cross on their Good Friday buns. The accused often claimed that it was necessary to mark a cross on the dough, to ensure that the buns would rise. However, the popularity of the buns prevailed, and the Queen resorted to passing a law which limited the bun's consumption to proper religious ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter or funerals."

Riddley Walker said...

As a card-carrying atheist, professional mental-case and educator of my Dutch girlfriend in all things English, I'm glad you can get the things at all times of the year.

This has a lot more to do with my complete inability to remember what time of year any religious ding-dongs are. Therefore, my g/f would never experience the joy of hot, toasted, buttered HCBs if I didn't spot them on my aimless ramblings through Tesco in, say, July.

Hey, at least I remember to dress myself before heading down to the stores...

Liked the look of the iced versions, too. ;-)

Brian Sibley said...

JENNIFER has just sent me a couple of links about an East End pub called The Widow's Son with HCB associations...

This is from Pubs.com:

75 Devon's Road,
Bow, London, E3 3PJ

This curiously named pub has a sad story. In a cottage on this site lived a widow, her only son a sailor. He was due to return home on Good Friday and asked his mother to bake him some hot-cross-buns. Sadly, he never returned. Nevertheless every Good Friday his mother had a new bun waiting.

Each year a new bun was added to ones she had kept from previous years. When she died the buns were found hanging from a beam in her cottage, which became known as the "Bun House". The cottage was replaced by a pub and the story kept alive by successive landlords.

On Good Friday, a Royal Navy sailor adds a new bun to the collection which hangs in the pub. Sailors from around Britain come to pay their respects to the widow. They hold a religious service, then sing, drink and generally have a good time.

The 220 year old pub has a single, triangular, bare floorboarded bar. It is plain and simple, except for some incongruous, highly decorated glasswork. This is a real East-End pub and nowadays, about as close as you'll get to an authentic Victorian alehouse.

Further information - and pictures of old buns! - on Harbottle's Pub Guide (for some reason the html link won't work, so you'll have to copy and paste; but it's worth a quick look and it will save having to actually go there!):


Good Dog said...

I was surprised to see Easter Eggs in the shops so soon.

I asked and it appears that they're on the shelves now so that Halloween products can go on the shelves in April and Christmas cakes, decorations and the like come June.

(I hope that was all a very, very bad dream)

Brian Sibley said...

From JENNIFER: an up-date on HCB History - seemingly quite a bit of the stuff I posted from 'Eras of Elegance' is b****! Also stuff on the origin of the use of 'bunny' for 'rabbit'; but please don't tell Buttons...

See Lycos IQ.