52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 25: Easter Baking
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:
More appealing was the hot cross bun, as discussed in the Book of Days again:
Alas, they exclude Scotland again! Undaunted, I tackled the following receipt from Five thousand receipts in all the useful and domestic arts.
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!
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:
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.
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