Legendary buns: the history behind your Easter treats

8 Apr

image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Whether it’s halved and toasted, eaten cold and whole, with lashings of butter or a scraping of jam, shop-bought or home-made, there is no denying that Easter isn’t complete without munching on a hot cross bun (or a few!). But what do we really know about where this delicious Easter treat came from?

We all know hot cross buns to be part of the Easter celebrations, traditionally eaten on Good Friday. However, the presence of the hot cross bun isn’t just rooted in Christian celebrations, but can be seen all over the world throughout history. One belief is that the Saxons made buns for their ‘Eostre celebrations’, offering the spiced cakes to Eostre, the goddess of spring. This pagan tradition is one upon which our own Easter celebrations are based.

There are also links to ancient Greece, where buns were offered up to Artemis and Hecate, the bun representing the four stages of the moon. It is also said that the Babylonians offered the hot cross bun to Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven, on the same day every year that we celebrate Good Friday.There are even signs of the hot cross bun in China, Mexico and Egypt!

While the religious significance of the hot cross bun is well known, there are other strange customs and superstitions that have been passed down over the years. Who would have thought that hanging a hot cross bun made on Good Friday by the front door could protect a house from fire, or if taken on a sea voyage would protect sailors against being shipwrecked. It is even said that they have magical powers and will never go mouldy even if you keep them from one year to the next.  Some believe that the hot cross bun has medicinal properties, and legend tells us that if a piece of it is eaten by someone who is unwell, its special healing powers will cure them of their illness.

However, not everyone was happy about the hot cross bun and the superstitions it held.  In 1592, the Queen passed a law stating that hot cross buns could not be made or sold at any time except for funerals, Good Friday and Christmas. Luckily for us, this couldn’t be enforced and we can enjoy them all year round. We can see how much the hot cross bun became part of the community. The Chelsea Bun House holds a legend surrounding the popularity of the hot cross bun. It is said that on Good Friday in 1829, around 240,000 buns were sold to over 50,000 people who crowded outside.

Bringing us forward, popular bakery retailer Gregg’s sold over 3 million hot cross buns just over the Easter period last year! So let’s take a moment to think about the challenge our nation’s bakers meet every year to bring us all these delicious treats. Bakers work hard to make sure we get our hot cross buns, not only in time for the Easter celebrations but all year round.

Hot cross buns are perhaps the hardest of all cakes to make in a bakery, always sticking to the machines and needing constant attention. Even today, the hot cross bun still works its magic, as told in this charming baker’s tale. In one particular bakery, no matter how many they bake, however many buns get burnt or go wrong, there are always two buns left from the batch.  These two buns get to be eaten by the baker who made them. This is Easter’s gift to the bakers for ensuring we all get our delicious hot cross buns in time to celebrate!

The hot cross bun is a symbol of Easter, and this simple cake holds so much history, tradition and legend. So remember how the hot cross bun came to be part of our yearly celebrations when you tuck into yours!


One Response to “Legendary buns: the history behind your Easter treats”

  1. Bongo Tom May 11, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    If you want to see evidence of buns not going mouldy, check out the Widow’s Son in Bromley-by-Bow:

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