Hot Cross Buns — and an Unexpected Visitor

Getting ready

Well, it certainly wasn’t what I thought would happen. I had offered to help my daughter Joy with her annual Hot Cross Bun Bash on the Good Friday before Easter.

This involved a 6.30 a.m. start making the dough so that it would rise at staged times, enabling preparing, shaping, baking and glazing to take place at staged times during the two hour session. Soon the house was filled with the scent of spice and orange and lemon peel. The car was packed with all the essentials, with bowls of rising dough at various stages and away we went to the local church, heaving the ancient medieval door open, loaded with boxes and bowls and a lot of excitement…..

The Visitor

…….only to discover that a temporarily trapped bird was flying back and forth, high, higher, higher into the rafters, never realizing that his way to freedom was to swoop down low, lower, lower through the  door into the blazing sunlight.  Many days and many attempts to free him into the open air had still been unsuccessful.

And here they come!

But we had people arriving soon, so we set up anyway, ready and eager to see who came. With its emphasis on children, I expected noise, spills, flour, jubilant mess everywhere, mayhem,  tears, voluble triumphs, and a lot of scampering around in the non-pewed sanctuary, as children always do to claim the space for their own.

But that’s not what happened. Something in the mood of the day gave a sweet gentleness to the atmosphere. The painting table, led by Bob, priest-and-artist, re-enforced the Easter story as he sat creating a picture of the empty tomb, and adults and children alike were totally wrapped up in their own work.

Some children brought in greens from the churchyard.  They told the story to each other as they made an Easter garden on a pile of sawdust and shavings, near the altar, putting the figures in last. Once completed, the bird came to visit and helped himself to morsels of Easter. He must have been exhausted and hungry.

Even the Easter egg hunt was happily cheerful, but not very voluble, in their triumphs  of discovery.

New friendships over HCBs

At the other end of the building,  the church started to fill with the scent of baking buns, while adults and children shaped and claimed their own on baking paper, ready for the next batch to go into the oven.

  

Two women who had brought their children, sat apart with their  coffee and buns, talking and laughing, mentioning how grateful they were for this time of peace before they returned to chaotic households and festive preparations.

  

Visitors who wandered in to see this unusual church were greeted with freshly buttered  buns and hot drinks, and became part of the food that built us all into a gently  warm  community. Everyone was welcomed, stranger and friend drawn together by eating together. All were fed.

Even the bird.

Orange and Whisky Marmelade

A favourite blog reader suggested that I use this as the recipe of the month. And there is a connection: when Joy glazed the buns after baking, she used a dilution of homemade marmalade without fruit pieces and hot water. When I make it, I have to snatch handfuls of time now and then.  That’s why I’ve divided the process into several steps.

A note about jars: The most tedious part of making jams and pickles is cleaning labels off donated jars. If you are a generous donor, the good community-spirited thing to do is to remove the labels before handing them over. Sticky Stuff or your local equivalent is a must for every household, as it clears off far more than jar labels.

 

Step One

Wash and remove the stems of 900 gms (2 lbs) oranges (about 5 of them) and one lemon.  Place in a pressure cooker. Add 1.2 litres ( 2 pints 40 ozs, 5 cups, ) water, bring to pressure, and steam for 30 minutes. Cool.

 

Step Two.

   

Put the fruit into a strainer and carefully pour any stewing water into a deep jam-making pan. The fruit will probably crack open by themselves, and the insides usually fall out of the skins. With scissors, cut the skins into shreds and plop them into the jam pan, too. Now press the fruit pulp through the strainer, ensuring that all of the seeds are cleared of their slitheriness (it’s pectin and will make the jam set.) You may wish to wash the fruit clean with a slosh or two of boiling water.

Step Three.

Add 1.5 kg (3lb 6 ozs  7 ½ cups) sugar. Check that all the sugar has dissolved completely in the fruit and juice before you start cooking.

 Step Four

Wash, and drain 5 – 7 jars. Place upside down in an oven on VERY LOW heat.

Bring the fruit-sugar mixture to boil, stirring now and then. It should come to 105 degrees C (220 F) . You can use a thermometer, or try the wrinkle test, where a teaspoon of sauce on a cold plate will wrinkle when pushed gently with the side of your  finger.

 

Remove from heat. If the jam is scummy, stir in a knob of butter which will clear it instantly.  Add 4 tablespoons good quality whisky and stir well.

Remove the jars from the oven one by one without burning yourself, and ladle in the marmalade, near to the rim. Add a disk of jam paper. Cool. Add lids.

Optional Step 5 (You may be able to skip this step).

When cold, wash each jar under the tap to remove the jam you’ve sloppily ladled onto the sides, onto the counter, and onto the floor.

 

Step 6

Label the jars. But remember, the smaller the label the better, because you’re only going to have to scrub it off the next time you use the jar.

ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTION. Just do your favourite marmalade recipe and add whiskey to taste before putting into the jars.

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