FOOD: Saf­fron and cur­rant buns.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week | Contents - An­nie Smithers

The de­li­cious teatime treat of saf­fron and cur­rant buns, also known as revel buns, is na­tive to the coun­try­side of Corn­wall. And while the men­tion of saf­fron may con­jure im­ages of Bud­dhist monks in flow­ing robes, this saf­fron snack rose to promi­nence off the back of less colour­ful Sun­day school out­ings hosted by the Methodist Church.

Saf­fron, the in­gre­di­ent that dis­tin­guishes this bun from the plain cur­rant va­ri­ety favoured by Flopsy, Mopsy and Cot­ton-tail, came to the Cor­nish coun­try­side a long, long time ago. Tin, cop­per and ar­senic where all mined in Corn­wall from 2000BC un­til late in the 20th cen­tury. It was thought for many years that traders from the Mid­dle East found their way to Eng­land in the Bronze Age, where they traded saf­fron for tin. This the­ory has been dis­proved with ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence and brought for­ward to about 350BC. The Ro­mans brought the ac­tual saf­fron cro­cus to Eng­land and it has been farmed there, on a small scale, ever since.

Saf­fron has long held the No. 1 rank­ing in the world of spices that are most ex­pen­sive by weight. The sta­mens of the cro­cus flower are hand har­vested and care­fully dried. Any­one who has tried will know it is a painstak­ing labour of love. So imag­ine my sur­prise when I was of­fered a jar of beau­ti­fully grown, har­vested and dried lo­cal saf­fron, the ori­gins of which were al­most as in­con­gru­ous as the folk of Corn­wall hav­ing saf­fron buns as a teatime sta­ple.

Small towns of­ten fos­ter lo­cal iden­ti­ties and per­son­al­i­ties in a way that is dif­fer­ent to ho­mogenised big cities. Trentham is no dif­fer­ent. Chrissie, the town’s sin­gu­lar Aus­trian im­port, used to be the pro­pri­etress of the lo­cal hard­ware store and she is much loved.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing there, she joy­ously turned her hand to grow­ing saf­fron, a task that she has ap­plied her­self to with metic­u­lous Aus­trian zeal. The end prod­uct has been amaz­ing to work with.

For years I had hoarded a recipe clip­ping for these buns, so at last I had a good ex­cuse to trot it out and make some. Af­ter they were re­moved from the oven and had cooled a lit­tle, I slathered them with but­ter. The crumb was close, the tex­ture was drier than a bri­oche-style bun, they were packed with fruit and the saf­fron gave a cu­ri­ously savoury note to what oth­er­wise would have been sweet buns. They seemed a fit­ting trib­ute in a town such as Trentham – where Protes­tant churches once ran 3–1 to Catholic churches – to an Aus­trian who bought me a jar of gold. Food, it seems, is so of­ten the il­lus­tra­tion of

• the in­con­gru­ous na­ture of life.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Earl Carter

AN­NIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fer­mier in Trentham, Victoria. She is a food ed­i­tor of The Satur­day Pa­per.

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