Cooking, Food and Drink, History

“One a penny, two a penny…Hot Cross Buns!”

For this Good Friday, a post from days of yore.  The buns are in the oven as we speak.  I’m trying a different recipe, one from Mary Berry, this year.

I’ll report back!

Hot Cross Buns!

A Good Friday tradition I don’t always adhere to but which, for many reasons, this year I thought I should. Blessings and a joyous Easter season to all Christians, a Happy Passover holiday to all of the Jewish faith, and best wishes for the happiness, safety, and health of absolutely everyone.

Legend has it that the first hot cross buns were baked in England by a monk of the 12th (or perhaps the 14th–you pick it) century and that he distributed them to the poor on Good Friday. There are other traditions associated with them: Hanging one in the kitchen is supposed to repel evil spirits, and the bun is supposed to stay fresh for an entire year (unlike the Burger King Whopper in that weird and rather revolting ad). As the years passed, hot cross buns became a popular staple of English bakeries, until Queen Elizabeth I decreed that they were sacred, and could be sold only on Good Friday and at Christmas. Unsurprisingly, this led to the baking of hot cross buns in the family kitchen, and another tradition was born.

No one really knows how old the nursery rhyme is, but it’s a variant of the street-seller’s cry:

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!

Wikipedia reports that it is mentioned in Poor Robin’s Almanac from 1733, as follows:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs,
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

But the earliest recognizable version comes from the London Chronicle in 1767:

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns;
If you’ve no daughters, give them to your sons;
And if you’ve no kind of pretty little elves,
Why then good faith, e’en eat them all yourselves.

As far as I know, no-one has tackled the thorny question of why girls were, apparently, given first dibs on the lovely things. But I can testify to the truth of the last sentence in the Wikipedia article, which mentions the fact that the tune of “Hot Cross Buns” was often one of the first exercises taught to young children in the UK learning an instrument. I learned it, along with “Three Blind Mice,” from my grandpa, an accomplished pianist, when I was about three.

I tried a different recipe this year: You can find it here. The buns are more heavily spiced (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice), and more fruity (cranberries and currants) than my usual effort, but they are delicious. The hint of orange in the icing is nice too, although I should have made it a bit thicker, as some of the crosses are quite messy. Doesn’t affect the taste though.

Happy eating, all. If you’d like to share a recipe or photo of your special feast here over the next few days, please do.

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