Hot Cross Buns

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Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are a traditional Good Friday treat in England. These buns consist of sweetened bread dough enhanced with spices, citrus peel, and currants or raisins. After baking, the cooled buns are decorated with a cross made from sugar icing.

Among the English a preference for eating hot cross buns on Good Friday can be traced back at least as far as the eighteenth century. In 1733 Poor Robin's Almanack printed the following verse:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs With one or two a penny hot cross-buns Whose virtue is, if you believe what's said, They'll not grow mouldy like the common bread.

In the nineteenth century researchers recorded many English folk beliefs concerning hot cross buns. According to these beliefs, these small loaves of bread would neither mold nor decay. Moreover they had the power to cure disease, especially intestinal disease. Some people hung hot cross buns in their homes all year long as a means of protecting the household against illness, lightning, fire, and other misfortunes. Street vendors sold dozens of these popular delicacies on Good Friday, attracting customers with ditties like the following:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns. If your daughters won't eat them, Give them to your sons; But if you have none of those little elves Then you must eat them all yourselves. (Weiser, 129)

Some researchers suspect that convictions concerning the power of bread stamped with a cross and baked on Good Friday can be traced back to the Middle Ages. During this era, bread baked for distribution during the Eucharist was imprinted with a cross. Some writers assert that in the late fourteenth century the monks of St. Alban's Abbey began promoting the consumption of hot cross buns on Good Friday by distributing buns stamped with a cross to the poor on that day. Moreover, throughout the latter half of the Middle Ages the Eucharist was placed in a special shrine called the holy sepulchre on Good Friday so that worshipers could pray and meditate on Christ's sacrificial death. After the Reformation, a sixteenth-century religious reform movement, this devotional practice declined in popularity. Some researchers suggest that nineteenth-century folk beliefs concerning the virtues of hot cross buns represent a remnant of earlier religious customs such as these.

By the twentieth century English bakeries began to produce hot cross buns throughout Lent. Today the buns can also be found in the United States and other countries to which the English have immigrated.

Further Reading

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.

Web Site

"One a Penny Poker," an article on hot cross buns posted in Devon Life Online, an electronic magazine about life in the English county of Devon:
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