Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Hot cross buns are
in demand as Easter nears

The symbol of the cross will be the center of celebrations by Christians next week as they mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

It's a symbol that has been displayed in commercial bakery cases for several weeks. It's hot cross bun season!

With a cross defined in lemon gel or custard and bits of citron fruit imbedded in chewy bread, it's a pastry that many people confess to eating for old times' sake rather than for its delectability.

It's a confection with a history that dates back centuries. As we sort through mounds of candy linked to that secular Easter symbol, the bunny, it's hard to imagine how special sweetened fruit in bread was in those pre-chocolate days of yore.

"I have at least one during Lent," said Tony Garnier, who buys his at Safeway. "Not because I'm a Christian; just nostalgia. I didn't like them as a kid. They looked pretty but they weren't sweet."

Jan Perreira said, "It's a must ... from the time I was little. I pick them up on Easter Sunday after Mass."

Dreen Martin declined the treat, which she described as bearing "the stigma of fruitcake" because of the dried fruit nuggets.

But Mary Marko said, "I'm one of the strange people who like fruitcake. I used to get hot cross buns from the Jewish bagel maker."

"I wait for it every year," said Nancy Nakamura as she had buns boxed at the Patisserie.

Her mainland friend Clarence Spellman said, "I get a hankering for them because you can't get them the rest of the year."

Patisserie President Rolf Winkler said bakers in his native Germany made Easter bread with a cross cut in the crust, but he first encountered hot cross buns in America.

"There's a demand from our hotel customers for next week," he said. "We've had it all month but it's not a big seller."

Behind the Napoleon Bakery counter at the Kaimuki Zippy's, Katherine Rodrigues was actually able to call up the nursery rhyme from memory: "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."

"The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" provides a final verse "But if you haven't any of these pretty little elves; you cannot do better than eat them yourselves."

The anthology, published by Oxford University Press, says the ditty was the chant of street vendors and was recorded in a 1733 edition of "Poor Robin's Almanack."

Hot cross buns were traditionally a Good Friday treat in England, according to "Easter the World Over," a 1971 collection by Patricia Sawyer Lord and Daniel J. Foley: "An old notion was held that if you did not eat a bun on this day, your house would be burned, but everybody ate buns, so there was no danger of fire."

The authors reported that some buns baked on Good Friday were left to harden in the oven. The bread was kept all year, to be grated and mixed with water as a medicine for stomach disorders.

"The cross on the hot cross buns is believed by many to be a purely Christian emblem," the authors said. "It is, however, far older than the advent of Christianity."

The cross was a pagan symbol long before it had any Holy Week significance. The first crosses appeared on cakes associated with the worship of Diana. The little wheaten cakes that are known to have been made at primitive spring festivals were similarly marked.

"Two small loaves, each with a cross on it, were discovered under the ruins of Herculaneum, the (Roman) city that was encased by volcanic ash in A.D. 79."

Considering Hawaii's moist climate and flourishing insect population, I wouldn't recommend bun longevity experiments. After eating at least one hot cross bun per week during Lent -- not as penance, as research! -- my hankering is just about spent. Oh well, maybe just one more bun ... for the memories.


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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