Yum, let’s all have a hot cross bun. Jamaicans probably remember the universal ditty associated with the delicious treats—
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns;
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.
Sung quite a bit at Easter time, the song reminds many of childhood delights, but most people probably don’t realize that hot cross buns pre-date the Jamaican Easter bun and cheese and led to their popularity. Sometimes called Easter buns, they are a big part of Jamaican culture, just like several other representative foods such as saltfish or ackee. The concept dates back to ancient Babylon, when cross buns were offered to Ishtar, the pagan queen of heaven. Ancient Greeks made similar cakes to honor the moon.
The tradition found its way to England, where cross buns were eaten on Good Friday, with the cross symbolizing the crucifixion of Jesus. When the British captured Jamaica, of course they brought the custom to the island. Over time though the English version of the cross bun transitioned to the Jamaican version, with some key differences.
Jamaica’s version is made with molasses, while the buns from England were made with honey. In Jamaica, you eat the bun with cheese, a combination that has become ingrained in island culture. British custom has waned when it comes to eating hot cross buns as fasting food on Good Friday, but in Jamaica the practice is as prevalent as ever. Today the custom is seen as more Jamaican than British. And eating cheese is now a year-round practice, while the bun and cheese dish is prevalent primarily during the Easter holiday.
The country has a history of adapting foods from other cultures to please Jamaican palates. Rice, originally from China and India, has been mixed with red peas to make a unique Jamaican dish. While a similar dish is prepared in Trinidad, the two are different, and while Jamaicans call it rice and peas, Trinidadians name it peas and rice. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Either way, make sure to sample a hot cross bun at Easter time to see why they are so very popular.