One of the delectable pleasures of the Easter season is a savory hot cross bun. However, this pastry delight is becoming increasingly more difficult to find; and even harder to explain to many bakeries is just what it is that was so prevalent just a few short years ago.
Combining different fruits, raisins or currants within the body of a delicious dough and topping it off with two ribbons of icing that are crisscrossed on top to symbolize a cross has long been a must for many on Good Friday. Traditionally, they have been sold in bakeries and markets throughout the Christian world as an Easter treat.
They have also been the center of controversy since they were first introduced in 1361 by a monk named Father Thomas Rockcliffe. He initiated the tradition by giving the tasty buns to the poor at St. Albans on Good Friday.
Hot cross buns, a Lenten tradition for centuries, have not always been a symbol of Christianity. And, in fact were banned by the church until they were "Christianized" after the church failed to discourage their consumption and thus decided to recast them as a representation of holy scripture.
Their origin is actually tied to pagan traditions in ancient cultures. The so-called cross on top was actually a dividing of the bun into four quarters representing the four phases of the moon. After failing to outlaw them, the Christian church re-interpreted the icing divide as "a cross."
AS WITH SO MANY early symbols, the buns took on a wide range of traditions, superstitions and customs. They were even associated with healing procedures and as a "protection from evil spirits."
In England, following the schism in the church and the banning of Catholicism, Queen Elizabeth I enacted a law criminalizing the consumption of the buns except during holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, or at funerals.
But, even she and the English judiciary could not defeat the mighty hot cross bun. They became so popular they were sold by street merchants crying out "hot cross buns here!"
That chant of the street vendors became a famous nursery rhyme.
But, nearly seven centuries after Father Rockcliffe's generosity to the poor, the pagan ancestry of hot cross buns has crossed paths with 21st century political correctness — of all places, in England.
As reported by Hilary White on LifeSiteNews.com, in a story datelined Ipswich, England, she wrote: "The UK's mania for political correctness has struck again where a school has banned hot cross buns. A representative of Oaks Primary School in Ipswich said the buns might offend Jehovah's Witnesses …"
LOCALLY THE ONLY PROBLEM with the buns is in locating them. Many bakeries no longer offer them. And some who were contacted were totally ignorant of what they were.
Most of those that do carry them do so only at Easter time. "We primarily carry them only at this time of the year," said Maribeth Nyerges of Maribeth's Bakery, 6441-A General Green Way, Alexandria.
"We mainly prepare them for hotels and caterers. But, we also offer them at our stand in the Alexandria Farmers Market where we've been for 20 years," she said.
"The ones we make have real dried fruit not that jellied fruit. At Easter we sell hundreds of dozens at $5.99 a dozen," Nyerges said.
Another Alexandria bakery offering the Easter favorites is The Great Harvest Bread Company, 1711 Central Plaza. "It's pretty much of a special for Easter and the month of April," said Matt Muroczek, a bakery employee.
"We also get calls for our hot cross bread which sells for $6.34 a loaf," he said. There buns are $6.88 a dozen.
At the Alexandria Pastry Shop, in Bradley Shopping Center, they sell for $1.80 each according Alpha Sanpedro, manager. They make them throughout the spring, summer and autumn.
In the south Alexandria area they are available at Brenner's Bakery, 1512 Belle View Boulevard, in the Bell Haven Shopping Center and at the Hollin Hall Pastry Shop, 7920 Fort Hunt Road.
Alex Park, production manager at Brenner's said, "We get lots of calls for them, particularly at Easter. Our six pack sells for $2.99."
Hollin Hall Pastry Shop also uses dried fruit in their hot cross buns. "We make them strictly for the Easter season," said Mel Meadows, owner. "They sell for $1.99 each."
Of 12 bakeries contacted, these were the only ones in the immediate area that produced hot cross buns.
Could this be the revenge of Queen Elizabeth I?