A crust above the rest

Mar 28, 2013, 07:30 IST | Avril- Ann Braganza

Hot Cross Buns, bought and eaten today Maundy Thursday, are not just part of the gastronomic Easter tradition but have a deeper significance

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!

Today, Maundy Thursday, parishes across the city will be fragrant with the scent of hot cross buns after the evening church service. These buns, which have been immortalized in the rhyme: ‘Hot Cross Buns’ are traditionally sold on Maundy Thursday.

Rena D’Souza makes hot cross buns. Pics/Kiran Bhalerao

Initially, these buns were unleavened bread lightly browned and decorated with a cross of flour paste, a reminder of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Yet, as the years went by, embellishments came in. Now, though there are a few plain buns available, there has been a slight twist to the tradition and many bakeries have started incorporating spices, candied peel, or cherries into the traditional hot cross bun.

Craig Fonseca has fond memories of hot cross buns from his younger days

As a result, the buns available today taste a little sweet. Blessed hot cross buns are generally sold at very affordable prices (approximately Rs 5 to 10 a piece). The parishes sell the buns with no profit motive but as a way to keep tradition alive.

Ann Rose D’Cruz attaches religious significance to the buns

Fr. Allwyn Nazareth, from Sacred Heart Church in Santacruz (W) said, “Jesus Christ at the Last Supper blessed, broke and distributed bread amongst his apostles. In his remembrance, the priest too blesses the buns and distributes them to people as a reminder of them sharing their lives with one another, bread being the symbol and pattern of life. Bread is also symbolic of self-giving and transformation. The people then take the bread home and share it with their families and friends either on that day or on Good Friday.

Louisa Ferreira remembers going with her family to church every Maundy Thursday

“Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross is a day of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus through fasting and so eating a hot cross bun is in keeping with a simple meal of the fast. Today, many parishes continue to distribute blessed hot cross buns on Maundy Thursday.” Fr. Allwyn explained the origins saying that, “The distribution of hot cross buns is said to have begun with the monks of St. Albans Abbey in Great Britain. These monks would distribute the hot cross buns amongst the poor in the 14th century. It is said that the buns were made from a simple preparation to be a poor man’s food.”

Fr Allwyn Nazareth explains the origins

While buns can be bought at several bakeries, many Christians buy the blessed buns from their parishes on Maundy Thursday after the evening church service , like Craig Fonseca (26), a copywriter from Bandra, who said “Every year we go together as a family for the Maundy Thursday service at St. Peter’s Church, after which, we buy hot cross buns from our parish. We then come home and have the buns for dinner.”

Fr Ryan Fernandes. Pic/Abhinav Kocharekar

Fr. Ryan Fernandes, parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sewri, said that they do things a little differently. “In our parish we do not sell hot cross buns but we distribute it to the head of every family on Maundy Thursday. The head of the family is given a prayer, which he takes home and says together with his family. He then breaks and shares one loaf of bread as Jesus did with his disciples at the Last Supper.”

Hot cross buns are replete with significance

The piece of bread is replete with memories for many. It takes them back to their childhood, like for Ann Rose D'Cruz, (43), Santacruz resident who said, “As a child, the hot cross buns delivered to our house with sugar and a cherry on top were a delight to me. The buns, I buy now are simple and no longer have sugar or a cherry. So, for me the hot cross buns have changed in appearance and significance. From a childhood treat, the hot cross buns now denote a deeper connection with Good Friday and I now connect it with Christ's crucifixion. I generally have it for breakfast on Good Friday.”

The National Bakery at Bazaar Road in Bandra (W) has been making hot cross buns for approximately 35 years and supplies buns to many churches as well. Azziz Khan, one of the bakery owners said, “We begin baking the hot cross buns on Wednesday night all through Maundy Thursday until we deliver the buns to various churches. Usually, we bake approximately 3,000 buns but it depends on the order.” Yvan Carvalho, partner, American Express Bakery, said, “We have been making and selling hot cross buns ever since the bakery opened in the 1920s. Our buns contain cinnamon and candied peel and we have been using a traditional recipe passed down from one generation to the next.”

Though most people buy their hot cross buns from bakeries, yet, this humble food has not vanished from city homes completely. Rena D’Souza’s Vile Parle kitchen is redolent with the scent of hot cross buns. D’Souza, who has been making hot cross buns for the past three years said, “Earlier, I would buy hot cross buns but since I learnt to bake bread I have started baking them. It is a lot of hard work but in my free time I manage to bake some buns for my family and friends and also take orders. The prices of ingredients has gone up so accordingly my price changes for people who order,” ends D’Souza who proves you can have your hot cross bun and bake it too.

Many families treasure memories of attending Maundy Thursday service together every year and returning home for a family meal with hot cross buns. Louisa Ferreira (81) said, “When my children were young we would take them every year to Mount Carmel’s Church for the Maundy Thursday service.

I remember everyone gathering at one corner of the ground to see the life-sized statues of Jesus and his apostles after the service. The statues would have hot cross buns on their plates with Jesus Christ in the centre, breaking bread and offering it to his disciples. Children who came to see the life-sized representation of the Last Supper would be clutching a hot cross bun bought for them by their parents. We too would buy a bun for every member of the family, which we would eat at dinner together,” finishes the Bandra resident.

Fonseca also cherishes a few childhood memories when he would get a ticking off from his mother for eating the cross off the buns, rather like kids who eat up the cream within the cream biscuits. “When I was about eight, I would eat only the cross part of every bun at home because it was crunchier! My mum would shout at me and tell me to eat my own bun and not rip out the crosses from everyone else’s but when she was not looking, I would sneak away and finish off the crosses from the other buns!”

As Maundy Thursday dawns it is evident that the tradition of the hot cross bun, continues to endure in a time when several old ways and customs are fading. Heavy with symbolism, the community remembers its significance in this special week. Like the rhyme says: ‘If you have no daughters, give them to your sons. One-a-penny, two-a-penny hot cross buns’.

Pagan Origins
According to Pagan legend, the hot cross bun can also be traced to the Greeks, where for them the four corners of the bun represented the four phases of the moon. The Christians later gave a Christian interpretation to the bread, where the cross was a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

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