I have recently set up another blog called “Heather Sprinkles”, with the intention of posting my art and crafts on it. I had one before which I used for the same purpose, but I recently decided that I wanted to make so many changes to it that it would be easier to start a new one. This time I have chosen to set it up on WordPress because, quite frankly, I have come across some lovely friendly people here on WordPress, and because I find the site so user friendly and I love the choice of designs and options. I only set the new blog up a few days ago so posts are scarce, and I’m still tweaking things a bit, but here’s a little peek…
Well, even though we’re more than halfway through May, I am finally posting the “April” illustration in my monthly series. My routine has been a bit different in recent weeks so, even though I started this picture just as April ended, to my shame I didn’t finish it until yesterday. However, since the weather seems to be about a month behind at times, and my sleep quota is probably in a similar state, not to mention my ability to tidy up being months behind, I don’t suppose it matters too much if I join in, too!
Ever since I started doing my month illustrations last autumn, I have posted them in the following month. Yet so far this April it feels like I would have expected a more typical March to feel, so I guess it’s quite apt to post this now…
Then with the Vernal Equinox we saw signs of winter considering taking a hike to enable spring to seep in, so I made the second of my season illustrations in the series, watching a December/January – January/February – February/March shift take place…
And then, of course, there was Easter. My Easter illustration just goes to show that the inside of my head is dreaming up a springtime that I long to see outside the window!
My homemade Hot Cross Bun, Not Cross Bun and Crossless Hot Cross Bun!
It’s been a tiny dream of mine to make my own Hot Cross Buns for a while so last Thursday I thought I’d give it a try. I guess I was in good historical company, given that only home baked Hot Cross Buns were allowed during the 1500’s and 1600’s, since sales of Hot Cross Buns and other spicy breads, buns biscuit and cakes had been banned, except for on the occasions of burials, Good Friday and Christmas. This was as a result of a decree set in place by a London Clerk of Markets during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. All of a sudden I’m having visions of people entering obscure cellars, with a secret password, and gathering illegally to hand over grubby coins in return for sweet, spicy treats to be chomped away at speed for fear that the next knock on the door wouldn’t be a tentative tap from another furtive fellow wanting to make an illicit purchase! In reality, selling such goods on one of the unspecified dates was punishable by having to surrender the food free of charge to the poor.
Since I’d never made anything like Hot Cross Buns before, I thought it would be wise to have a trial run prior to this Good Friday. One of my family members cannot eat currants so I also thought, with it still being a bit early for Easter, that I would try a bit of a variation. Whereas Hot Cross Buns are a sweet, spicy and fruity bun, which originated in the UK and are often eaten during the period between the evening before Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, my Not Cross Buns, as I named my first attempt, substituted the currants and peel for chocolate chips and finely chopped glacé cherries.
Originally, in early Hot Cross Buns, the cross was cut into the top of the buns. Pastry being piped or laid on them was a later development. My Not Cross Buns had no cross, though, because I felt I wanted to streamline the process the first time I tried it. While many people enjoy eating their Hot Cross Buns toasted, alas the first batch of my Not Cross Buns was never eaten at all, save for a little fluffiness rescued from the middle in order to learn what the texture and taste were like. Actually it was nice enough for me to realise that the ingredients and method didn’t need to be changed, but the cooking temperature or time did.
In the past, some people believed Hot Cross Buns could be medicinal, and it seems that there are a number of superstitions and rituals related to Hot Cross Buns. For instance, a Hot Cross Bun baked on Good Friday has been thought not to go mouldy during the following year. The very thought must have been quite a relief to all the people who have hung a Hot Cross Bun up in their kitchen in the hope that it would not only serve as protection from fire, but bring good lunch in general for the next year, and have the handy side effect of making sure the bread was baked to perfection, too. Many of the humbly, hard-working Hot Cross Buns would be ruthlessly cast aside and replaced each year when the next batch was on the scene, ready to take up the baton. That said, some Hot Cross Buns have been kept and passed through many generations as family heirlooms. In recently years it was thought that the oldest surviving Hot Cross Bun (well, I can’t believe something isn’t living in it or on it after all this time!) dated from 1821. I don’t know if that is still the case. Maybe I should sniff!
Some people would view the cross on the bun as an “x” and so feel the need to kiss it before they would eat it. Others would share a Hot Cross Bun with someone, believing that such an act would guarantee a friendship between the giver and receiver for the following year. Not only in the home were Hot Cross Buns seen as such an assistance. Burying a Good Friday loaf in a heap of corn was thought to protect it from rats, mice and weevils. Taking a Hot Cross Bun as a fellow passenger when sailing, was thought to prevent the possibility of shipwreck.
I find myself wondering, should I have gone to the shop to buy a Hot Cross Bun to dangle over the oven while I tried to cook my Not Cross Buns? I must admit I was a tiny bit nervous. Not Yikes!-It’s-my-driving-test-today nervous, nor even I’ve-got-to-go-to-the-dentist-today nervous. More I-hope-it-doesn’t-all (as an amusing man I once met, who worked with trees and hated computers, used to say) -GO-HORRIBLY-WRONG nervous. Well, it didn’t. Then it did.
Everything was going so well.
Dried ingredients mixed.
Butter melted in milk perfectly. Wet ingredients added to dry ingredients, along with the ruby jewels of glacé cherries and the cheeky chocolate chips. Everything mixed together marvellously.
I had a dough. I kneaded it, and for longer than the time suggested in the recipe, but the dough just hadn’t had enough elasticity within the timeframe the recipe recommended. When I left the dough to prove, it doubled in size as it was supposed to – another sigh of relief to be had.
After an hour and a half I kneaded it again for a few minutes, separated the dough into six balls and left them to prove.
The buns-to-be doubled in size – another pat on my back. I was on the home straight! Put the buns in the oven at a temperature of 220°C for fifteen minutes, the recipe said. So I did. And what did I get? Six burnt buns. Six not Not Cross Buns but six Downright Angry Buns!
Downright Angry Buns!
I was very disappointed. “I never should have followed the recipe,” I ranted. “I only ever have success if I change recipes or make them up!” *Indignant stomp.* Well, we always like to blame someone, don’t we?!
All was not lost. My annoyance was catalyst enough for me to try again the next day. This time I made two lots of dough side by side. One of Not Cross Buns with cherries and chocolate, and one of Hot Cross Buns with currants and peel. When it was time to cook them, I reduced the oven temperature to 210°C, gleefully ignoring the recipe. I put a couple of Not Cross Buns in first for 15 minutes. They came out a little darker than I would have liked, but they weren’t burned like yesterday’s. So I baked the subsequent buns for ten minutes each instead. That proved (!) to be the answer as the rest all came out looking a lot better. As a result of my now entrenched distrust of the recipe, I had thought the pastry crosses would probably burn if I cooked them for the same amount of time as the buns, so I hedged my bets and only added crosses to half of the buns. I needn’t have worried, though, because they all turned out fine. (But my recipe trust isn’t restored!)
I must admit I was pleased I had had a second try. I didn’t like feeling beaten by a recipe so I simply had to outwit it. All who tasted the buns really enjoyed them, especially when the buns were eaten fresh from the oven with butter. The chocolate chips had largely disappeared from sight in the Not Cross Buns, as had some of the cherry pieces, yet they left behind a lovely distinct flavour. The cross not burning had felt like another tiny victory, adding legitimacy to the experience – I’d managed to cook the real thing, no exemptions, no excuses. Now we’re ready to try them any time again!
Many sweet, spicy buns have been eaten for a number of centuries, holding different significances for people from different religions and cultures. The cross on the small loaves that Saxons ate, for example, made them think of the four quarters of the moon. To Christians the cross on Hot Cross Buns represents the Crucifixion, the bread stands for communion and the spices signify the spices which were used to wrap Jesus’ body when it was in the tomb.
As well as different shapes and patterns, there are a lot of variations on the traditional Hot Cross Bun recipe nowadays, such as chocolate and coffee flavoured buns. Meanwhile, other countries have other traditional foods that they eat at Eastertime, like Colomba in Italy, Kulich in Russia and mazanec in the Czech Republic.
Whatever you’re eating and whatever you’re doing this Good Friday, I hope you have a good Good Friday!
As a child I was utterly fascinated by the idea that a plant could be grown on wet kitchen paper! I discovered that could happen when an old margarine pot, filled with damp kitchen paper partially covered with cress seeds, was placed on our back southeast facing kitchen windowsill. Within days the seeds had germinated and after a few days more we were eating cress.
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is a small edible herb which can be grown easily and quickly. The word “cress” comes from the Latin verb crescere which means “to grow fast”. Lepidium is the genus of cress, its taxonomic group within the Brassicaceae family which also classes watercress and mustard as members. Sativum means “having been cultivated” and comes from satum which means “a pasture”.
Owing to its slightly peppery flavour, peasants used to season some of their meals with cress because they couldn’t afford black or white pepper. Cress has been known variously as poor person’s pepper, pepper grass, pepperwort, garden pepper cress and Greek cress. Not only was it considered an inexpensive seasoning, but cress was believed by some to cure certain health complaints and to be beneficial for the brain. Personally, I just like its taste and texture. While not quite hard enough to be crispy or crunchy, it’s not soft enough to be soggy or smooth either, but has a moist robustness about it that yields the slightest of staccato hisses when you bite into it.
When I decided to start growing my own plants last springtime, my childhood memory of cress being grown inspired me and made me think that this would be the ideal way for me to begin. Since cress has been grown since the 1600’s why couldn’t I have a go? So I ordered a little packet of seeds and received them the following week in the post. I couldn’t wait to get started.
On March 14th I took a deep jar lid and lined it with circles of kitchen paper that I had cut to fit it. Then I poured enough water onto the circles to make them damp but not too much to drown the seeds which I sprinkled evenly onto the paper before leaving the lid on the windowsill. Each day, and probably several times a day, I checked my jar lid to see whether the seeds had germinated and could be proclaimed as promoted to seedlings. On March 18th I was pleased to see that a shoot had appeared. Some others followed but progress was slow. I was baffled because I was sure I remembered cress growing a lot faster than this when I was little.
Reluctantly, I decided to give up on that batch. There were two possible theories to explain its unwillingness buzzing around in my head. The seeds had arrived in a little re-sealable plastic bag and I wondered if that meant the seeds had been unsealed some time ago and subsequently stored in a larger container? Or could it be that, because I had been so captivated by the percussive sound of the seeds in their little bag and had felt the need to shake them repeatedly to record rhythms for creating a “drum loop” at a later date, I had damaged them? Whatever the reason, I left the jar lid on the windowsill for some time but acquired a new sealed paper packet of polycress (a lesser known quick growing variant), some of which I planted on March 28th.
This batch was much more successful. Brown seeds cracked open after only a few days, revealing tiny green tongues. Little white worm-like stalks gradually curled away from the brown shells, wriggling and stretching up towards the sunlight, spreading their leaves out. These seeds were so prolific that I was able to grow several batches in quick succession. Thought to have originated in the UK, garden cress is not only grown indoors on windowsills or outside in gardens, but also commercially in England, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia – and here I was joining in the fun!
Said to be ideal in soups, cress is also a popular ingredient in salads and sandwiches. My favourite way of eating it is as an addition to a nice cheese sandwich. (I’ve always thought this would make a nice wrapping paper or tablecloth fabric or notebook cover design!)
Although the plant, effort and reward were small in the grand scheme of things, I loved sharing my cress and growing it proved to be a fun, tasty and encouraging way to start the journey of My Flowerpot Garden – not least because it led me towards the next part of my project. It was thyme, sorry time, to up the ante by trying to grow thyme, parsley and chives.