Friday Food and Drink Post: One a Penny, Two a Penny…

 

A Good Friday tradition I don’t always adhere to but which, for many reasons, this year I thought I should. Blessings and a joyous Easter season to all Christians, a Happy Passover holiday to all of the Jewish faith, and best wishes for the happiness, safety, and health of absolutely everyone.

Legend has it that the first hot cross buns were baked in England by a monk of the 12th (or perhaps the 14th–you pick it) century and that he distributed them to the poor on Good Friday. There are other traditions associated with them: Hanging one in the kitchen is supposed to repel evil spirits, and the bun is supposed to stay fresh for an entire year (unlike the Burger King Whopper in that weird and rather revolting ad). As the years passed, hot cross buns became a popular staple of English bakeries, until Queen Elizabeth I decreed that they were sacred, and could be sold only on Good Friday and at Christmas. Unsurprisingly, this led to the baking of hot cross buns in the family kitchen, and another tradition was born.

No one really knows how old the nursery rhyme is, but it’s a variant of the street-seller’s cry:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Wikipedia reports that it is mentioned in Poor Robin’s Almanac from 1733, as follows:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs,
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

But the earliest recognizable version comes from the London Chronicle in 1767:

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns;
If you’ve no daughters, give them to your sons;
And if you’ve no kind of pretty little elves,
Why then good faith, e’en eat them all yourselves.

As far as I know, no-one has tackled the thorny question of why girls were, apparently, given first dibs on the lovely things. But I can testify to the truth of the last sentence in the Wikipedia article, which mentions the fact that the tune of “Hot Cross Buns” was often one of the first exercises taught to young children in the UK learning an instrument. I learned it, along with “Three Blind Mice,” from my grandpa, an accomplished pianist, when I was about three.

I tried a different recipe this year: You can find it here. The buns are more heavily spiced (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice), and more fruity (cranberries and currants) than my usual effort, but they are delicious. The hint of orange in the icing is nice too, although I should have made it a bit thicker, as some of the crosses are quite messy. Doesn’t affect the taste though.

Happy eating, all. If you’d like to share a recipe or photo of your special feast here over the next few days, please do.

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  1. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    It must have sailed to the colonies with the pilgrims I think, because that was one of the first little ditties I learned as a very small child. But then, most of my mother’s ancestors were from England. My grandmother used to make them as well. Thank you for good memories.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Every time I look at that photo I begin to salivate. I’ve already had breakfast so I’ll have to get over it. They look wonderful and sound delicious. Yum!

    • #2
  3. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Those look amazing, @she! I looked at the linked recipe; since Great and Holy Friday is a strict fast day in the Orthodox church, I’ll have to make them for Pascha, along with the traditional tsoureki.

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    We heard the jingle as kids, but I’m not sure I had ever actually seen crossed buns. Thanks. 

    • #4
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    She, how many books on your teeming racks have a hot cross bun recipe in them? Just curious!

    I love these and they always remind me of my Nana from Nottingham. 

    Wednesday night we had our family Seder, which is a part of Toad Hall Holy Week with our mixed-faith family… You can’t see the matzo ball soup, but maybe you can smell the ginger?

     

    • #5
  6. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    A couple of years ago I made this for Easter breakfast and I’m planning to do it again this year:

    It’s Asparagus, Salmon, and Egg Tartlet. 

    • #6
  7. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    The one Easter cooking tradition in my family, handed down for generation [sic] (i.e. from my father) is making egg salad from all the hard-boiled eggs. I love a good egg salad. For the last couple of years, for Pascha my wife has been making a very eggy sweet bread as well. I wonder if it goes with egg salad?

    • #7
  8. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I love a good egg salad.

    Me too. When I moved to Oregon I could not understand why no sandwich shop had egg salad. Ya gotta be kiddin me! 

    • #8
  9. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    She, how many books on your teeming racks have a hot cross bun recipe in them? Just curious!

    I haven’t done a complete inventory, but they’re in James Morton’s Brilliant Bread on page 168. I’ve made these, although not with the crosses for Good Friday. These have a sourdough base and I used Grand Marnier, instead of Apple Brandy (go to war with the army that you have), and they were very good. A bit fiddly.

    There’s also a recipe for “spiced buns” which can be crossed, in Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. I haven’t made many recipes from this book, because for me the recipes are secondary. I enjoy it because it’s full of historical detail and diversions, and interesting culinary facts. There’s an entire chapter on “Yeast Buns and Small Tea Cakes,” which is fascinating. (The Brits are big on buns and tea cakes. Yorkshire tea cakes are a particular favorite. They’re a flat sweet bun with currants (Yorkshire Tea Cake is to Bun as Ciabatta is to Loaf of Bread, if you want to get an idea of the shape and height). They can be made either in idividual serving size, or as a big one marked in sections like a pie for cutting apart later.

    One of the things I like about yeast buns and teacakes is that they’re single portions, and the leftovers (if there are such) can be frozen. Since there are only two of us and one of us is a picky eater, recipes which make large quantities of anything are sometimes challenging to finish while still fresh. Buns, muffins, cupcakes, etc, get round that problem and insure that we always have a tasty treat around.

    • #9
  10. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Those look amazing, @she! I looked at the linked recipe; since Great and Holy Friday is a strict fast day in the Orthodox church, I’ll have to make them for Pascha, along with the traditional tsoureki.

    I hope you like them. I made per the recipe, except I mixed 1/2 and 1/2 cranberries and currants. I did need a couple extra tablespoons of flour, when I got to mixing. After ten minutes baking, I brushed the tops with a milk wash (about 1/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon sugar, heated and stirred till the sugar dissolves. I use the microwave for heating. You could use an egg wash. Or not. I like a bit of shine to the tops though.)

     

    • #10
  11. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    As I am trying to conserve flour, I’m not making them this year. Pity. I use this recipe from the old Gourmet magazine. Very easy to work with. I usually add more spices, though.

    There is a Good Friday tradition in Bermuda of eating salt cod fishcakes as a sandwich on a hot cross bun. They also fly unique kites on the beach.

     

     

     

    • #11
  12. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    As I am trying to conserve flour, I’m not making them this year. Pity. I use this recipe from the old Gourmet magazine. Very easy to work with. I usually add more spices, though.

    There is a Good Friday tradition in Bermuda of eating salt cod fishcakes as a sandwich on a hot cross bun. They also fly unique kites on the beach

    The recipe looks delicious, thanks.

    I think flying kites on the beach is a great idea. Around here though, it’s a bit like the saying about the ham sandwich and bread: I could fly a kite on the beach, if I had a kite. And if there were a beach. (And if it weren’t snowing at the moment.)

    But, give me a couple of months, and I’ll try it in the field across the road.

    I have a recipe for salt cod cakes that was given to me by an elderly fisherman in Prince Edward Island. It goes thus:

    If you wanted them crispier, you could deep fry them. I’m having a hard time imagining a hot-cross-bun-cod-cake sandwich, though. Is it good?

    • #12
  13. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    There used to be a bakery in Bangor, Maine run by Franciscan friars. They made un—be—lieve–ab—le hot cross buns. I discovered this one day when I wandered in before a class at the seminary. They looked tasty. I bought six, figuring I’d share them with my classmates. They were large. We could share. 

    Back in the car, I tasted one.

    By the time I’d arrived on campus, perhaps three blocks away, I’d eaten them all. OMG.

     

    • #13
  14. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    There used to be a bakery in Bangor, Maine run by Franciscan friars. They made un—be—lieve–ab—le hot cross buns. I discovered this one day when I wandered in before a class at the seminary. They looked tasty. I bought six, figuring I’d share them with my classmates. They were large. We could share.

    Back in the car, I tasted one.

    By the time I’d arrived on campus, perhaps three blocks away, I’d eaten them all. OMG.

    I totally understand. Chocolate has much the same effect on me

    • #14
  15. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    My Dad always bought hot cross buns during Lent. I never ate them as a child because I was a very picky eater, but they were certainly a treat for him.

    • #15
  16. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    I’m beginning to think there’s absolutely nothing you can’t do!

    • #16
  17. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’ve heard the term “hot cross buns” time out of mind. But I never heard the poem (or song) and never saw what they looked like until now.

    • #17
  18. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    I’m beginning to think there’s absolutely nothing you can’t do!

    @goldwaterwoman Thank you, sweetie. But you’d be wrong. For some reason, though, I’m not moved to write posts about how terrible I am at math, other than of the most useful and practical sort; or how I’m still at the “drawing stick figures” stage when it comes to creative artistic pursuits (a few years ago, I read several articles which say this may indicate I’m psychologically stunted, so I’m particularly anxious that this fact shouldn’t see the light of day); or the awful hash I’ve made of so many things as I stumble along the path of life.

    But I am grateful for parents who encouraged me to try whatever I wanted to, and who didn’t (for the most part) make fun of me when I messed up (memories of a dinner when the Yorkshire pudding was an epic fail spring to mind–I was about fourteen, and thought I was the family’s own Julia Child, who was very big at the time). Or of a great many other projects which didn’t work out quite as hoped or planned. And I’m grateful that, for almost all of my life, I’ve been around people who focused on what worked, rather than what didn’t, and that I haven’t spent much time in the company of narcissists, obsessives, or perfectionists.

    When Mr. She and I were building our house ourselves, we came up with a saying, “done is best.” We were both operating far beyond our level of competence, in a time before DIY stores were on every street corner and there was no YouTube to tell you how to do everything under the sun, and in the words of one of my favorite poems, “Nothing [was] plumb, level or square.” (That poem has always spoken to us in many ways.) But we love the place, and we embrace its imperfections. They were the best we could do, and that’s plenty good enough. I hope that’s a healthy way to look at things. It’s my way, when it comes to life events that aren’t life-threatening or critically important. All bets are off when dealing with them, when second-place isn’t an option, and when life itself is at stake. Then, it’s important to get it absolutely right. Otherwise, not so much.

     

    • #18