52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 25: Easter Baking

Title page from the image of the cross and lights on the altar in the Christian church (r BV160.I6)

Title page from The image of the cross and lights on the altar in the Christian church (rBV160.I6)

Well, this week’s post has been more challenging than expected.  It started life as a blog about decorating churches for Easter. Although I have no doubt there is material about this in the collections, it is harder to find than I have time for.  Then I found this quote in Bernard Homer Dixon’s The image of the cross and lights on the altar in the Christian church (1879):

Hislop’s words with regard to processions will apply equally well to floral decorations of churches.

“The very idea is an affront to the majesty of heaven; it implies that that God who is a Spirit sees with the eyes of flesh, and may be moved by the imposing picturesqueness of such a spectacle, just as sensuous mortals might.”

I lost heart, and decided to turn to baking.  Even here I was knocked back by the same publication:

In Scotland the reformation was more perfect than in England.  Not only was the cross removed from the Churches, but the sign was omitted in baptism, and even the hot-cross-bun of Good Friday was abolished.

My colleagues in Special Collections found me some much more cheering material.  I decided against attempting the simnel cake as described in Chamber’s Book of Days – not needing a footstool, and not completely sure how you would create this:

Chambers Book of Days_Mothering Sunday_2

Simnel Cakes in the Book of Days (s PN6073.C5)

More appealing was the hot cross bun, as discussed in the Book of Days again:

Chambers Book of Days_Good Friday

From the Book of Days a discussion of hot cross buns on the morning of Good Friday (end of left column and beginning of right) (s PN6073.C5)

Alas, they exclude Scotland again!  Undaunted, I tackled the following receipt from Five thousand receipts in all the useful and domestic arts.

Receipts in Domestic Arts

Common Buns and Cross Buns recipes (s TX154.M2)

No wooden bowl in the house, but an old bowl and a fire:


Sifted sugar (caster) and powdered spices – there is a mortar and pestle, but there were also powdered spices ready for using-with a little guesswork over quantities!


Butter and milk – that was easy!

butter & milk

There was some guesswork over the yeast, then all was mixed to a ‘paste’ and placed in front of the fire again, this time under the watchful eye of the cat:


Then to the bun stage, a little uneven:

buns 1

But marked with a cross and put in the oven they soon filled the house with the most wonderful smell – there is nothing quite so comforting as spiced warm buttery rolls.  The first batch were a little tough, but the flavour was good, and they passed the 10 year old’s taste test, so they must have been ok.  The second batch, with a little more yeast, more spice and some more kneading, were even better – slightly softer and tastier.

buns 2

Batch number one

buns 3

Batch number two

Old as it is, it is a recipe I would use again, maybe with some slightly different spices.  And I think the first batch may well find themselves sliced up and turned into a bread and butter pudding – more comfort food, and it doesn’t even have to be Easter!

Jenny Evetts – Collections Manager


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