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Tag Archive: homemade food

Apr 18

Sweet, delicious hot cross buns, a family Easter tradition – from my archived columns

“Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns. If you have no daughters, give them to your sons, one ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns.” – English ditty

hot cross buns

Even though Easter is over, hot cross buns are high on my list of traditions I want to keep alive for future generations.

A family custom in many households around the world but especially in England, these sweet yeast rolls are served warm either on Good Friday or Easter Sunday morning.

Perhaps you wonder what hot cross buns are if you never tried one.

Here is how I would describe them if baked to perfection.

Sweet and delicious with a glossy-browned finish on top, filled with mild spices, currants, or dried fruit and raisins, and lastly decorated on top with white “powdered sugar” icing in the shape of a cross, a reminder of the crucifixion of Christ.

In addition to being simply good to eat, I find the lore surrounding hot cross buns deliciously interesting.

For example, did you know that Elizabeth I, Queen of England, once banned the buns because she feared they would bring the return of Catholicism? The buns were so popular, however, that she relented.

And before that, the Romans brought the buns to England in the 1360s, whereupon a monk distributed them to the poor for food and healing. Because the buns had a cross on top, many believed they had magical healing powers. The buns were crushed into a powder that was subsequently used as medicine.

Additionally, superstition held that hot cross buns protected one’s household from evil, therefore, families hung them from the ceilings to ward off evil spirits.

Another story tells the tale of an English widow whose son went off to sea. She baked his favorite hot cross buns, every Good Friday and hung them in her window hoping he would come home. Although he never returned, the English people continued the tradition and baked hot cross buns every Good Friday.

I guess I do the same with our sons, in a manner of speaking, although I don’t hang the buns in the window.

On this particular Easter weekend for example, our grown kids, who incidentally never saw an Easter Sunday morning without a hot cross bun in their lives, all called commenting about hot cross buns.

One son who is away at school lamented the fact that he had no hot cross buns for Easter. It saddened him.

Another son wondered if he should stop at a bakery on his way home for Easter. Did I need him to pick up hot cross buns? Just wanted to be sure we had some, he said.

Another son is newly married and lives in another state. In the afternoon they called with their greetings. My son’s bride said she was curious about something and asked, “What are hot cross buns?” She said they went to a church that served them for Easter breakfast, and she didn’t know what they were. Then she laughed and said, “But your son seemed to know all about them.”

As I said, I am doing my part to keep this tradition alive.

The lyrics of the English ditty did say something about giving hot cross buns to your sons, didn’t it?

Jun 19

Fried chicken has to start somewhere

Every newspaper has its own colorful humorist, but none can compare in my way of thinking with The Kansas City Star’s late Bill Vaughan.

Once while talking about the good old days Vaughan quipped, “A convenience food today is one that is already cooked. In grandmother’s time it was a chicken she didn’t have to kill personally.”

Young readers may not understand and may want to cover their ears for the rest of this story.

Those of us who grew up in the 50s, especially those on a farm, know exactly what Bill Vaughan meant and will remember the summer ritual known as “dressing chickens.”

Or, I should I say–killing chickens we knew personally.

If you did not grow up on a farm, you may have missed this practice, but if you did, you know exactly what I mean.

In those days, my grandmother was the chief chicken dresser (a polite term for chicken killer).

Here is how this ceremonial chore unfolded.

When chicken-butchering time arrived, my grandmother, mother, and all relatives within shouting distance marched resolutely to the chicken house.

Grandma set up a caldron of boiling water in the yard. My mother’s job was to catch the squawking chickens, hold them upside down by the legs, and hand them over to my grandmother.

Grandma would twist the chicken’s neck, lay it on the ground, and step on its neck with her boot.  Then, she would pull the head off and let the chicken flop around headless squirting blood everywhere.

It was a comical sight because sometimes the chicken would get up and walk, minus the head of course.

After the required amount of time passed, the women took turns picking up the flopping chickens holding them by their feet and dipping the bodies into the caldron’s scalding water.

My grandmother and mother seemed to know exactly how long was long enough. At the perfect moment, they would hand off the wet, smelly chickens to us kids to pluck.

Incidentally, one can never forget the smell of a wet chicken.

With eyes wide open in astonishment, we kids took the wet chickens in one hand and began picking off the feathers with the other. That was our job.

We did not complain because for the next two weeks, we feasted on fried chicken and all the trimmings. That was our payoff.

Mashed potatoes covered with salt and pepper and white chicken gravy, homemade rolls with real butter, green beans from the garden cooked with bacon grease and onions, corn on the cob slathered with butter, homegrown tomatoes, and strawberry shortcake, a flat shortbread served with thick cream direct from the cow and strawberries straight from the patch.

I make no judgment about the way we ate in those days except to say this.

I can smell and taste that glorious food still. We ate the same fare everyday at noon dinner and again at supper for two solid weeks while the chickens were fresh. (Note of explanation to the younger crowd—no one had a deep freezer.)

And, we never tired of eating fried chicken because, after all, it was chicken “dressing” time.