Easter as we now know starts around the 26th December when that staple of the period, the Hot Cross Bun appears on supermarket shelves. To be honest if I see another advert for luxury buns containing obscure Sultanas that can only be found in the Amazonian rainforest or some ghastly concoction of salted caramel and luxury Belgian chocolate, I think I’ll scream!
The offering as far as Britain is concerned is thought to date from when pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre, which is most likely the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons.
This idea seems to have been hijacked when Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a 14th-century monk at St Albans Abbey produced what he called an ‘Alban Bun‘ and distributed them to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361. To begin with these buns were just a sweet dough containing no fruit or spices, but Brother Thomas had an eye for brand awareness and decided to put a cross on the top of his buns.
Over the next 140 years or so the product transformed into a highly spiced and fruited product and many producers, as with their modern counterparts of today wanted to extend the selling season, so these buns, minus the crosses could be bought on any day that the local Baker brought his produce to market.
Queen Elizabeth may have held the same sentiments as I do for this practice and so in 1592 she issued a decree to the London Clerk of Markets, a sort food standards agency based at the Guildhall completely forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced bread. The exceptions to this rule were Good Friday, Christmas and burials. Anyone found to be in contravention of this law would have their buns removed and redistributed to the poor. Her rationale for this decree was that these products were “too special to be eaten any other day“. This ban lasted well into the 17th century driving the practice underground into domestic kitchens for home consumption only.
Had the Queen been forced to listen to “This is Not Just a Hot Cross Bun, this is a ……….” advertising I’m sure another decree would have been issued against all Elizabethan marketeers and Ad men of “Off with their heads!”