Probing your food history

The cross on the bun signified the Crucifixion while the spices in the bun pointed to the embalming of Christ

 

On Good Friday, April 11th, 1884, a bakery in Hawaii advertised the sale of their “Hot Cross Buns”. The buns would be on sale from 5am to 5pm. While time may seem an irrelevant detail of food history, the advertisement points to the origins of this very famous bun and its connection with Irish food history. 

The origin of the hot cross bun goes back to medieval times, at least as far back as the 14th century. Seemingly, in 1361, a monk in St Albans developed a recipe called an “Alban Bun” and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday. The cross on the bun signifed the Crucifixion while the spices in the bun pointed to the embalming of Christ. Whether or not this is true, the buns have been associated with Easter and with an end to fasting after Lent. 

The first definite record of hot cross buns in food history comes from a London street cry: “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns”. This appeared in print in Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1733. 

In Ireland, hot cross buns are always available around Easter time, even though we may have forgotten most of the complex symbolism that comes with them. But traditions are hard things to break and for me I often wonder how they began and morph into different ones. 

Hot cross buns contain spices and dried fruit that do not originate in Ireland, so I wonder (these are the questions that keep me up at night) if we ever made these buns without these ingredients? What would an Irish hot cross bun look like? Would it be flavoured with woodruff or meadowsweet, two herbs which are indigenous to Ireland. 

We forget how much the spice trade has impacted are food history. So many of our recipes contain these aromats that continue to be used daily. 

So while I would encourage you to make your own hot cross buns over the coming weeks (The Ballymaloe cookbook has a wonderful recipe), never accept a recipe as it is. Always probe your food history.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.