It’s officially Spring, and on days like these, I recall my mother coming home with hot-cross buns. They were proffered with a flourish and the announcement that we could have them on that day, that one very special day. I don’t remember, however, why or which day was so unique. And we were indeed allowed to have the Hot-Cross Buns on that day alone. But those days, those days were Catholic days, and they held many a ritual glory. When I close my eyes I see white ribbed socks turned over to measured perfection above black patent-leather shoes, yellow tulips in the center of the dining room table, a decanter of coffee and small plates next to them.
The house would smell of Spring, of open windows and soft breezes, of the lace curtains that would dance in the sunlight. In those days Lent was taken seriously. Easter would be a celebration and an end to fasting and abstaining from meat. Thusly, on the Good Friday before Easter, before the celebration of the Messiah! we would acknowledge that day and the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning. We would have Hot-Cross Buns.
When Elizabeth the first ruled England (1592) it was decreed that hot-cross buns and other spiced breads were not to be sold other than at burials or Good Friday, or at Christmas. There was in fact a punishment for doing so—all of the forbidden baked goods were confiscated and given to the poor. James the first continued the tradition in 1603.
Poor Robin’s Almanac in 1733 published a London street cry, the first definite record of Hot-Cross Buns:
Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns.
Nothing can be found for earlier records or recipes.
The more recent recipes for the baked goodies can include descriptions for the meaning or symbolism held within the ingredients. The cross itself has evolved to mostly include a sugar frosting: confectioners’ sugar, milk, lemon zest and vanilla. This is how my newly purchased, boxed grocery-store treasure is completed. I’ll sing the song on Friday.