April 28, 2020

X is for Cross

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.  Be sure to visit my fellow A-Z Bloggers, who can be found on the Master List.)

Hot X buns!  Hot X buns!
One-a-penny, two-a-penny,
Hot X buns!

        Okay, I had to cheat a bit, as one so often does for X.  They are really “hot cross buns,” of course, but what is the cross in question but an X across the top of each bun?
        This is one of the class of nursery rhymes that began as street cries: the songs or calls of street vendors or market stall owners trying to advertise their businesses.  Illustrated collections of street cries were quite popular nursery fare in the nineteenth century.  Hot cross buns are traditionally to be eaten on Good Friday at the end of Lent, but during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I there were
decrees to restrict the sale of hot cross buns to Good Friday, Christmas, and funerals.  The fact that the decrees were made of course betrays that people were selling them at other times.  Nowadays they are often available year round.
        All well and good, but there simply isn’t any story here.  It’s a pleasant, catchy little rhyme to sing, but there’s not much there to make for an interesting illustration.  And sure enough, the illustrations I have for you today aren’t very interesting.  Walter Crane tries to produce some drama by implying that while the boy eats his avidly, the girl is not so keen.  This may have been suggested by the occasionally-heard second verse:
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot cross buns.
It’s still not much of a plot.
        My second illustration simply shows the vendor with her basket of hot cross buns on her head.  You can’t even see the buns under the cloth, although I do think it’s very attractively carved with nice shading, and interesting texture on the wall.  The third shows the boy reaching into his pocket for the penny that will buy him his bun, which is hardly thrilling action. Oh well, you can’t expect top-notch entertainment when you have to find an X.  (Insert joke here, if you’re so inclined, about X-rated entertainment.)
        What’s your favorite food associated with a holiday?
        A final note for impressionable children: Don’t spend all your pennies on snacks.

[Pictures: Color wood block print by Walter Crane from The Absurd A.B.C., engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, c 1874 (Image from Internet Archive);
Wood block print from The Cries of London published by J. Kendrew, 1820 (Image from Internet Archive);
Hand-colored wood block print from Sam Syntax’s Description of the Cries of London, published by J. Harris and Son, 1820 (Image from Opie, A Nursery Companion.]


Lisa said...

I'm like that girl, I don't like hot cross buns! It's that dried fruit or citron in them. Raisins or cranberries or currents would be fine, but not the candied fruit. My mother loved them. I am not sure I'd let a child eat something that woman had, she reminds me of a witch in a fairy tale!
Holiday foods? I think of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving of course. Not necessarily my favorite holiday food, but one I always had and always make still. We weren't big on holiday food traditions other than Thanksgiving. My mother insisted on praline candies in her Christmas stocking though!

John Holton said...

For me, it's ham on Easter. Leg o' lamb is good on Easter, too, but not as good as ham.

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

Hello Anne! Yes, X does traditionally stand for "(not) X-actly cheating" and other painful stretches, in April. I like yours. It works well.

And you know, I'd never actually noticed the thing about street cries being in a lot of nursery rhymes, but now you've pointed it out, it seems like something I should have realized. How interesting! I wonder if that sort of thing was popular with children because it grounded the rhyme in their own everyday lives?

Deborah Weber said...

A most x-cellent X entry Anne. Like Lisa, I dislike the buns and their candied fruit - I've never had one that didn't taste like it was a use of left-over fruitcake bits.

I have a tradition of making Blitz Kuchen over the winter holidays using my grandmother's family recipe. While traditionally Blitz Kuchen, "lightning cake" is meant to be something that could be whipped up in a hurry, this recipe is painstaking and truly a labor of love, with it's meringue and cinnamon, almond, dense buttery dough goodness. It's delicious but such an ordeal to make I can only muster up the energy to do it once a year.

Jenny said...

This is a great post for X, though you're right, not exactly a thrill of a rhyme. My favorite holiday food, even though I'm not from the south, is black eyed peas on New Year's.

Jade Li said...

My favorite holiday food is on Tgiving, with stuffing and gravy to go with the roasted and sliced turkey breast. Yum!

Kristin said...

I used to make hot cross buns for Good Friday. I never had any with fruit. They were sweet rolls wit icing crosses.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Still fun how a vendor's cry can become a nursery rhyme.
My favorite holiday food is gingerbread...

The Multicolored Diary

Jai said...

That is a bit ingenious to substitute the X for the cross. Living in India I have not come across the term Hot cross buns. And I am not familiar with the nursery rhyme. The illustrations are good and I enjoyed the post.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Lisa and Deborah, I actually like dried fruit and citron. Yes, I even like fruitcake! Praline candies and Blitzkuchen sound good, too, though.

Melanie, I'm not sure "popular with children" was really the point. Popular with the adults, I believe, because it was supposed to be educational. Street cries were a part of a nineteenth-century child's environment and even perhaps thought to teach about industry and economics, as nowadays kids get books about garbage trucks, firemen, or farmers.

Kristin, the original form of hot cross buns did have dried fruit, and the cross was actually made of another sort of dough inlaid. I've only ever seen ones with icing crosses, though.

Thanks for sharing your comments and food thoughts, everyone!

Kathe W. said...

I love love hot cross buns! I even made them for the first time this year! Made enough for a small army so gave them away to some of our neighbors! Have to bake when I cannot really go anywhere!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I love hot cross buns. Sadly, the only time I baked them, I forgot to add the raisins...

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