The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE - JP McMA­HON

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 sig­ni­fied 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.

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