I remember being a kid and being excited about eating all sorts of stuff. Moon munch, a half pint of prawns at the Ha’penny pier, giggly chops, a Sunday morning choc dip infront of kids TV in a narrowly described bribe to not disturb the parents’ lay in. Common culinary occurrences maybe but still genuine anticipatory mouth waterers.
What was less common, back then, was the promise of a hot cross bun. Spiced dough buns studded with fruit, halved and toasted and devoured just as the butter smother layer started to melt. Delicious, and made all the more so because they marked the beginning of Easter when there was no school and potential piles of chocolates and maybe a roast dinner. Because you could only get hot cross buns at Easter then. Because they were an Easter food, special and time restricted, the foodie groupon offer of the day. I’m not talking about a hark back to the last century here….actually ok technically I am but only the 1980s, which despite plenty of jokes about me approaching middle age was not that long ago. Now, you can get a hot cross bun pretty much every day from any supermarket. I love hot cross buns, so I might think this was a good thing. Mightn’t I?
I don’t know. I braved the OAP obstacle course that is M&S to get my two packs of hot cross buns for £2 yesterday (a great example of bargain beating brain as in a single household I’ll never eat them all today) because, well, it’s Good Friday. You have hot cross buns on Good Friday. Why is that again?
To be clear, I’m not a conventionally religious person. I don’t belong to a church and I have next to no interest in arguments of faith, whatever flavour it may be, it just makes people cross. I have a great interest in history and literature however and regardless of what you think about God, the church, L Ron Hubbard or multi-limbed elephant deities, I don’t think anyone can argue that there once was a man called Jesus and he really left his mark on the world we live in today. Tradition (and my school teachers and mother) tells us that the hot cross bun is eaten through lent up to Good Friday as a reminder of this historical figure and his gruesome, if debatable, death by crucifixion. Yes, that is the cross on your hot cross bun. An ancient torture and execution method where an offender was nailed up and slowly suffocated by their own body weight if they weren’t put out their misery by a sympathetic stabbing to speed things up. Tasty stuff.
Not being raised in an actively God fearing family (I come from lines of atheists and lapsed Jews), I have no memory of this affecting my enjoyment of a hot cross bun as child although it clearly had more impact then that it might now. A quick straw poll of people who got stuck talking to me in the last few days showed that plenty of folks don’t know the origin of the hot cross bun, and the younger they get the lower the correct response rate. It’s just a hot cross bun now, better than toast but not quite a cake. M&S do ones with chocolate in them. What’s the big deal? If you ask Elizabeth the First, a very big deal indeed. Despite being branded a heretic by her elder half sister Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary, Liz One was a stout Christian and in the London markets of her day it was illegal to sell hot cross buns other than at Easter, Christmas or for a funeral. Times of faith and reflection. And if you got caught trying to sneak out a normal Wednesday morning spiced bun you would be punished by having all of your produce removed and given to the poor. Interesting.
Obviously we live in slightly freer times now but I do believe there is something commendable in the sentiment behind this. Because something potentially sacred should not be used to the profit of anyone. I’m no Catholic (don’t get me started) but I think Jesus was a pretty OK guy, with a generally more than OK message. When you get down to it, Jesus was touting the same philosophy that forms the bare bones of every major religion since the dawn of civilisation: Don’t be a dick. That simplification may not be the dream interpretation of generations of spiritual scripture, but it’s true. It gets complicated after that in all religions but at the base, we should all really just be nice to each other.
Think about it. Be nice, and not just to other people, try to be nice within and to yourself too. You’re OK you know, you deserve a hot cross bun and a nice cup of tea. I will personally take some reflection today to be less grumpy about my life when in the grand scale of relativity, I have it pretty good. I had an education, I have a roof over my head and live in a society where having an unpopular opinion wont get me nailed to a cross. Life is sweet.
So if you consider anything past the butter or jam debate when you tuck into your hot cross buns today (or whenever) maybe just do what Jesus would have done- Don’t be a dick. You don’t have to be any kind of Christian about it, as it is quite apparent that that the bun is now independent of the denomination. South African hardliners went ever so slightly nuts when their Woolie’s added a Halal label to their hot cross buns. Controversial, but a sign of the times. We really can all get along. Actually we could all get along with a hot cross bun as traditional folklore states that that a hot cross bun shared between two will bless a friendship for the year to come, which is maybe a much nicer association to a baked product than a street preacher being tortured to death a long time ago infront of a big crowd.
if you want to have a bash at making your own, click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/hot_cross_buns_74750