This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The ordinary sweet Bun was originally "Bugne,"a sort of fritter, a kind of bread made with sugar in it, and baked in cakes, generally round. The first mention of Buns occurs in a comedy of 1676; and eighteenth-century literature makes many allusions to this new form of pastry. The name "bugne"signified "a lump,"and (absit omen!) "a bunion."Nowadays this popular comestible as a makeshift form of food is spongy, and filling at the price. A plain penny Bun is to be considered more wholesome than the spiced varieties of Bath, and Chelsea. Specially taxing to digestion is the British Museum Bun. In Devon, large, satisfying Buns, made yellow with saffron, are known as "stodgers," or "busters." Mr. Tom Ward, a baker at Tiverton, used some years ago to manufacture a batch of these Buns, very big, which he sold at one penny each; children, on going into his shop, would invariably say, "Plaize I wants a penny stodger"; or others would ask for "a penny buster".
Formerly in England the famous Chelsea Bun house, at the corner of Jews' Row, (now Pimlico Road), was kept by a Mrs. Hands. So many persons were in the habit of flocking thither on a Good Friday for eating "hot cross Buns," that on one occasion fifty thousand assembled there, and two hundred and fifty pounds were taken in the day for these Buns only. The Royal Family, and many of the aristocracy used to frequent this house in the mornings; and Queen Charlotte even presented Mrs. Hands with a silver half-gallon mug containing five guineas. Sir Charles Phillips, writing a few years before the destruction of the Chelsea Bun house, after admitting that for thirty years he never passed the house without filling his pockets, goes on to say: "These Buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth, to four generations of the same family; and it is singular about the Buns that their delicate flavour, lightness, and richness, have never been successfully imitated." Even as late as in 1839 twenty-four thousand Buns were sold there on a Good Friday alone. In many households at the present time a Good Friday Bun is superstitiously kept for ensuring a healthy, and prosperous time until another such Bun comes to be made in the following year.
Moreover, the crossed Bun is believed to protect the house from fire, whilst serving to cure diarrhoea, as well as all manner of other ailments, in men, and cattle. When used as a remedy the Bun is grated into a warm drink, or a mash, and given at night. A special virtue of this Bun, as the allegation goes, is that it will not grow mouldy like ordinary bread. Loaves of consecrated bread, each marked with a cross, were found at Herculaneum, showing that the hot cross Buns of our day had really a Pagan origin. The Romans called them "quadra".
Earlier still, cakes dedicated by the Jewish women to Astarte, Queen of Heaven (afterwards the Roman Diana), were marked with a cross, which was the symbol of the goddess; or with horns, in allusion to the crescent moon. "In April, 1902" (Pall Mall Gazette), "a baker in a large way of business confessed to making a free use of the cheapest sherry in his manufacture of Good Friday Buns, also intermixing therein spices of various sorts, and small currants; but the compound proved abominably indigestible, and the idea of thus eating the Cross seemed little short of barbaric".
In South Africa, at the Cape, is compounded the delicious, and wholesome Grape Bun, "Moss Bolletje (bun)," moss being the juice of the grape in its early stages of fermentation. This Bun is of excellent service against atrophy, and the wasting effects of consumptive disease. During the wine-making season freshly-fermented grape-juice is commonly used instead of yeast by the countryfolk at Stellenbosch, French Hoek, etc, and very nice Buns are prepared therewith. Or, if grapes cannot be had, then raisins are taken, and put in a jar which is previously seasoned by having had fermenting grapes, or raisins, within it; the jar is not washed with water when about to be used, but generally dried in the sun, and kept closely covered from dust, being only employed for making the "moss" therein, so as to ensure its fermenting in a given time when thus prepared in the seasoned jar, or calabash. Again, for these Grape Buns the following is another old Dutch recipe: "A good batch": Take two pounds of raisins, sixteen pounds of flour,, three and a half pounds of sugar, eight eggs, one and a half pounds of butter, one pound of fat, two tablespoonfuls of aniseed, two grated nutmegs, one tablespoonful of finely-powdered cinnamon; cut the raisins, or mince them, put them into a jar, or calabash, with twelve cupfuls of lukewarm water, on the stove, or in the warmest part of your kitchen for twenty-four hours, till they ferment; have ready the flour, in which, after it is well mixed with the sugar, spices, etc., make a hole, and strain into it the fermented juice of the raisins; sprinkle some flour over the top, and set to rise for some hours in a warm place; then melt the butter and fat, warm the milk, whisk the eight eggs (yolks and whites separately), mix the whole well together into a stiff dough, and knead with the hand for quite three-quarters of an hour; let it stand overnight to rise; in the morning roll into Buns; set in buttered pans in a warm place; let them rise for half-an-hour; brush with the yolk of an egg, and some milk, and sugar; bake for half-an-hour in an oven heated as for bread.