Do you often think when out shopping how many different products you can buy these days?  Not everything is new though.  In the 1970’s we at Ridsdales were selling tins of ready-made porridge made by the well-known Scottish firm, Baxter’s of Speyside.  We also sold tinned tripe and onions!!  Can you remember buying ‘Smash’ the instant potato - a new revolutionary product? I think we can all remember the TV advert.

In late January, when shopping in Marks and Spencer, I noticed shelves with Easter eggs and hot cross buns for sale.  Taking a look, I noticed there were various flavours of hot cross buns to buy.  Like - Luxury fruit, Kent apple flavour and even Belgium chocolate flavour.  This made me think, why are hot cross buns so called?  I knew it had a religious connection but further investigation was required.

HOT CROSS BUN. It is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins, marked with a cross on the top, and traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent The cross representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm Jesus at his burial.   

Hot cross buns are eaten all over the world.  There are supermarkets selling a variation on the traditional recipe such as toffee, orange & cranberry, apple-cinnamon and the previously mentioned flavours. The chocolate version and coffee flavoured buns are sold in large quantities in some Australian bakeries.  They generally contain the same mixture of spices but chocolate chips are used instead of currants.  There are also sticky date and caramel versions available.

The ‘not cross bun’ is a variation of the hot cross bun. The same ingredients are used, but instead of having a cross on top, it has a smiley face in reference to it being ‘not cross or ‘angry’.  The ‘not cross bun’ was first sold in 2014 by an Australian baker, namely - Ferguson Piarre Bakehouses, in response to supermarkets selling hot cross buns as early as Boxing Day.

HISTORY - In many Christian countries, the buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning on Shrove Tuesday to Good Friday. 

One theory is that the Hot Cross Bun originated from St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th century monk at St Albans Abbey, developed a similar recipe called and ‘Alban Bun’ and distributed it to the local poor on Good Friday starting in 1361.

The first defined record of hot cross buns comes from a London street cry: ‘Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs.  With one or two penny hot cross buns’ which appeared in Poor Robin’s Almanac for 1733.  Remember the nursery rhyme (first published in 1798) – Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.  If you haven’t any daughters, give them to your sons, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns?

TRADITIONS - English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns.  One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year.  Another encourages the keeping of such a bun for medicinal purposes.  A piece of it given to someone ill is said to help them recover.  If taken on a sea-voyage it will protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly.  (The hanging bun is replaced each year!!!).

Enjoy your Hot Cross Buns, whatever the flavour and don’t forget, use butter (which is said to be better for you than spreads) and perhaps Wensleydale cheese (other kinds are available) for an even better flavour!!

Keith Webster

Batley Central Methodist Church

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