Easter brings with it certain memories for me: vegetarian food on Good Friday, 9 a.m. Stations of the Cross and the 3 p.m. service at Sacred Heart Church, Midnight Mass on Easter Saturday, baskets full of food, lots of kites and oh, cross buns.
It is amazing when you’re away from home how important such rituals become. Take the making and eating of cross buns for example. When I lived in Guyana, I almost never ate cross buns at Easter (Good Friday morning to be precise). I never really liked them. Now I live in Barbados, and it would not be Easter without cross buns.
The origins of the cross buns are as varied as the ingredients they are made with. Christians around the world eat cross buns on Good Friday morning with the cross on the bun being symbolic. There are people who believe that the buns pre-date Christianity and that it was used in pagan rituals.
There is another myth that the Church of England tried to ban the buns, however, because they were so popular, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law permitting them to be eaten but only on special occasions such as Easter and Christmas.
The word “hot” in front of cross buns is said to describe how the buns were sold long ago and meant to be eaten – just out of the oven. In Guyana, cross buns are also one of those foods, like pancakes, that’s exchanged and shared among friends and family.
I have always felt that cross buns required specialist knowledge. The first time I tried making them, my mom was visiting (that more than a decade ago). Now Barbs, as her friends fondly call her, can bake really well. So imagine my nervousness as I set out to make cross buns of the standard my mother is accustomed to.
I wanted it to be an independent venture so I did not ask her advice; instead, I set about checking cookbooks and the Internet for recipes. I found one on the Internet and followed the recipe right down to the teaspoons of orange and lemon zests. The kitchen was perfumed with cinnamon and all-spice.
What came out of the oven, however, was nothing resembling what I’d had for cross buns all my life. The cross buns came out looking more like a dark, very sweet bun and not bread-like the way my mom makes it or the ones we bought sometimes from Graham’s bakery.
I felt a little shame-faced. So, as I offered mommy a bun with a cup of tea, I started with the litany of an apology, “Mommy I don’t know what happened, these did not come out the way I expected. Taste it but don’t eat it if you don’t like it. I’m sorry.”
Being the diplomat my mother is, especially when she is in someone else’s space, she was polite. She had that little smile on her face, the one that’s usually hard to read. She ate the cross bun and drunk her tea as I stood there watching. “It’s different, not like the ones we make at home, but it tastes nice.” I tried them myself and they did indeed taste good but they were just was not my mother’s.
As with so many things that I make and eat these days – they are all to suit my taste. While the cross buns did not come out looking the way I’m accustomed to having them, they certainly tasted the way I would like to have them – moist and sweet enough to be eaten by themselves without butter, jam, jelly or marmalade.
So let’s jump to the present. It’s one week before Easter. Last Sunday I checked my cross buns recipe, the same one I’d made when my mom was here many years ago. My recipes notes said, (yes, I make review notes when I try out recipes) “This is the only recipe I will be using from now on.”
Well, it been quite a while, and my taste buds have changed. I now want to have cross buns that are more bread-like, like the ones I grew up on. It’s become like a ritual for me each year – I go in search of cross buns recipes.
Throughout the years, I have analysed and tested many cross buns recipes and finally came up with an adaptation, taking various things that I like from some of the recipes to come up with my own taste and texture for my cross buns.
I hope that my taste buds for cross buns don’t change too soon and make me have to do this all over again. But that’s just the thing about taste – it changes and we change – we crave new things, we long for old things and we create our own things.
* Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean Publications.
Book: Amazon (online) Locally: Pages, Cloister’s, and Days Bookstore.