Get 'em while you're able, get 'em while you can. One-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot cross buns! That's what we used to sing-song back in Edmonton when hot cross bun season rolled around.
Not that the words were right, but the sentiment was what mattered in our half-English/Irish family. The thing was, Easter was hot cross bun heaven, so we gobbled them up even if it meant singing about them with our mouths stuffed full.
I loved hot cross buns then, whether I ate one straight up, starting with the sticky top, or was served one more graciously by my mom Easter morning — piping hot, smeared with butter and toasted to golden perfection under the broiler. I love them even more now. Give me a perfect hot cross bun over a perfect chocolate egg.
Being one of the "pip-pip" colonies and all that, Canadians celebrate the hot cross bun as much — maybe more than? — Brits do, even though England is the geographic epicentre of hot cross buns. As for their history, it goes back since, well, maybe since before recorded history.
The hot cross bun nursery rhyme millions of kids know, some of them tinkling it out on the piano as their first piece, and the one we bastardized above, goes back to the 1700s. The real version goes like this: "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!"
The prices refer to one penny for one big bun or for two smaller ones. This, more or less, was the song of street vendors who sold them out of baskets.
The heyday for hot cross bun street sellers in London was Victorian times. According to recipe.co.uk, a great source for British and Irish recipes and historical backstories of same, Charles Dickens waggishly pondered the economics of hot cross bun vendors this way:
"Who these vendors are, whence they come, and what is their occupation on the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, are questions left somewhat in mystery; for the people are evidently not all connected with the baking trade. That the buns are all hot, that they are crossed, that they are 'one a penny, two a penny,' are facts asserted in a very determined and unanimous way by the vendors. And herein is suggested a speculation — why are hot cross buns always the same price? Do we get an advantage when flour is cheap in the market; and if not, why not?"
An even earlier version of the rhyme goes like this: "Good Friday comes this month — the old woman runs/With one- or two-a-penny hot cross buns/Whose virtue is, if you believe what's said/They'll not grow mouldy like the common bread."