Rewriting Tradition. Easter Cuisine Old and New. Part 1

I rang my 13-year-old grandson to ask if he had eaten any hot cross buns today. He sounded disinterested and replied ‘no’, in a polite but bemused way. I could almost hear his brain ticking over, perhaps with a ‘What the ..? Has Nanna finally lost the plot, ringing me about Hot Cross Buns?’ After all, the kids have been eating these buns since Boxing Day. That’s when they begin appearing in Australian supermarkets. By the time Good Friday comes around, the novelty has worn off. So much for tradition.

Ready for the oven

I then rang my eldest son, and asked him the same question. At least he is perfectly aware of the symbolic nature of these buns. No, he had also had his fill of the supermarket product along the way, and was whipping up some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Yes, another pagan in our midst. I am the first one to appreciate the secular nature of our society: I am not only a ‘collapsed’ Catholic but also don’t count myself as Christian. Having said that, I don’t see much point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, these buns are a seasonal and festive treat and it’s important to explain the meaning of the added crosses to the young folk. History and tradition form a part of who we are. At the same time, we happily appropriate any Buddhist and Hindu rituals that may suit us along the way.  Buddhist meditation becomes mindfulness ( and loses a lot in translation), Diwali is taking off in Australia and Chinese New year is popular too. Australia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, but as we grab hold of the new, we should also at least understand the old, and adapt some of those traditions to our modern taste.

Just glazed. Who prefers the top half?

I now make hot Cross buns annually, just a dozen. The yeasted variety is light and perfect for our Autumnal weather. Next year I will increase the amount of spice in the recipe I used. They cost very little to make and are far more digestible than the common supermarket variety. If you are a beginner at yeasted baking, try Celia’s recipe here. It is foolproof and very straightforward.

To serve with butter, not margarine.

The other fond tradition I hang on to is my dedication to cooking smoked Cod on Good Friday. This is an old Irish Catholic Australian thing. Most Scottish descendants did not have this bright yellow dyed fish imposed on them as youngsters on Good Friday. If you feel slightly ambivalent about smoked cod, go to the fish market and buy the real thing  from the Shetland Islands which tastes peaty and less salty. I buy it at the Preston Market, from one fishmonger who has, by 9 am on Easter Thursday, queues 5 deep. I am told by Sandra that it is available all year round at the Prahran market.

Fish pie includes Shetland smoked cod, flathead and shrimp

One way to enjoy a piece of good quality smoked Cod is to forget your grandmother’s recipe, which consisted of an overcooked piece of fish, served with white parsley sauce, alongside boiled vegetables. Maintaining the tradition but stepping it up a notch or two makes the elements of this dish more appetising. Make an Easter fish pie, incorporating the poached smoked cod, along with poached white fish and a handful of shrimp, in a white sauce, and top with buttery mashed potato. The sides? A tossed green salad with lots of mustard in the dressing, another Irish note.

Three serves later….

This post was inspired by my friend Peter’s comment a few days ago. Peter lives in tropical Far North Queensland, where some of these culinary traditions would seem totally out-of-place.

“Enter the 60’s & 70’s: Traditional Good Friday cooking of smoked cod, which was smelt from miles away on the farm, still lingers in our psyche. We (all seven kids) all started to gag at the thought of having to consume his hideous boiled, vile muck served with over-cooked spuds and grey cabbage. Tradition beheld that we all sit at the kitchen table and dare not complain as the Compassion donation box was placed in the middle of the table with forlorn starving African children’s’ faces staring back at us which reflected those much worse off than ourselves. If only our parents knew that when we took those money boxes back to school they were much lighter by many pennies and the occasional thrupence than when they left their position placed strategically near where food or indulgent entertainment was involved. When visiting childless Aunts and Uncles visited our eyes bulged as they loudly dropped loose change into said box and we immediately tallied up how many kangaroo or umbrella toffees on a stick , yard-long licorice straps of triangular frozen Sunnyboys we could buy at the tuck-shop on the next school day. I’m sure tens of thousands of children in Africa died of starvation by we greedy Catholic kids but obligatory confession ultimately absolved us even if we had to lie to the priest to protect our guilt. So now we celebrate Easter by holding a “traditional” Bad Friday by sharing all the amazing regional and seasonal foods abundant in our region. Last week-end was the annual sugarcane and banana plantation pig shoot – sponsored by the local pubs. We bar-hogs waited for hours until the slaughtered swine were unceremoniously chucked off the blood-splatted Utes by the shooters whose faces were akin to orgasmic stimuli at the thought of winning the $25 stake. The weigh-in is a serious event all greased with gallons of booze and much humourous joshing . However, those of us on the peripheral could only see that these beasts can’t possibly go to waste and commence bartering for the whole hog. My point being is that this Bad Friday’s fare is a 57 kilo pig on a spit to be shared with all the local collapsed Catholics, a few bevvies and lots of stories about how we all ended up in the wonderful wet tropics of Far North Queensland – and not a hot-cross bun in sight. Ahh! Bliss!!”

Thanks Peter for making the effort to add such entertaining recollections to my posts. I am sure many Australians of a certain age may have similar memories.

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…..

More Buns in the Oven

The moment I read Beck’s blog post on In Search of Golden Pudding, I knew I would have to try her Hot Cross Bun recipe for Easter. Based on an Elizabeth David recipe, they are easy to make, and include great tips for piping the crosses, though mine, like Beck’s, turned out rather fat and wonky. Next time I will cut a smaller hole in the piping bag.


If you want to have a go at making your own Easter buns this season, keep aside around 3 hours for the two stages of dough rising, and follow Beck’s very straightforward directions. It is a very satisfying task, not to mention the aroma of yeast and spice permeating the kitchen. I added rum soaked sultanas into my mix as I had them on hand, but I believe the currants are more authentic.

Trad Hot Cross Buns
Trad Hot Cross Buns

For Tuscan style Easter Buns, see my previous post here.

Got any bread?

A duck walks into a bar and asks: “Got any Bread?”

Barman says: “No.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, we have no bread.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, we haven’t got any bread!”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, are you deaf?! We haven’t got any bread, and if you ask me again and I’ll nail your f ***ing beak to the bar you annoying f***ing duck!”

Duck says: “Got any nails?”

Barman says: “No”

Duck says: “Got any bread?

I always think of this duck joke every time I pull more fresh loaves from the oven or when I see a family of wild wood ducks taking a fancy to our swimming pool. Both trigger a “Got any Bread” moment, but with entirely different emotions. At least it’s a lot better than the typically imbecilic jokes contained in Christmas bon bons. Who writes these Christmas jokes and why do we feel so compelled to read them aloud?

But you can keep your hat on.
You can leave your hat on!

Today’s festive olive bread is a super easy yeasted bread bound to stay moist. While dark looking and rustic in appearance, due to the olives, rosemary and olive oil worked into the dough at the first kneading stage, it is still a light bread. The recipe comes from Maggie’s Table.* I like the simplicity of this version, especially when time is precious at Christmas. You can make these lovely loaves in less than two hours with lots of resting time in between to indulge in a Christmas drop or two.

Olive and Rosemary Bread/ Pane con Rosmarino e Olive

15 g or 1 ½ teaspoons dried yeast

1 teaspoon castor sugar

300 ml warm water

500 g unbleached strong flour (bakers flour)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly chopped rosemary

190 g pitted kalamata olives

Combine yeast, sugar, and warm water in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Leave for 5 minutes. Then add the flour, salt, rosemary and olives. Mix with the paddle till the dough comes together, then swap to a dough hook ad mix for a few minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead gently for another five minutes. The dough is meant to be quite moist and sticky, however you may need to add a little extra flour along the way. Turn into a clean and lightly oiled bowl and brush the top with a little olive oil. Cover the bowl and leave until doubled in size ( about 1 hour).

Divide the mixture into two portions and shape into loaves. Brush a baking tray with olive oil and leave the loaves to rise, covered, on the oiled tray for a further 20 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 220c FF. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180c and bake for a further 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before cutting. Makes two loaves, one for me and one for the freezer.


*Maggie Beer, Maggie’s Table, Penguin 2005.  Gifted to me by the Richard’s family after the fire. Thanks Christine and Peter.