Good Friday and a Better Alternative to Hot Cross Buns

Unknown artist, The crucifixion in Monasterio de la Cartuja in Sala de San Pedro i San Pablo

Good Friday is known as a day of fasting. In contemporary Church discipline, it is one of the only two mandatory days of fasting left on the calendar (Ash Wednesday being the other). In former times, Good Friday was the occasion for far more rigorous observances. The Irish kept what was known as the Black Fast, in which nothing, except perhaps for a little water or plain tea, was consumed until sundown. And in the second century the Church is said to have kept a forty-hour fast that began at the hour when Christ died on the cross (3:00 p.m. Friday) and ended on the hour that He rose from the dead (7:00 a.m. Sunday).

But despite its link to fasting, Good Friday is also associated with several foods. In Greece it is customary to have a dish with vinegar added to it, in honor of the gall our Lord tasted on the cross. In some parts of Germany, one would eat only Spätzle (dumplings) and stewed fruit. In other areas of central Europe, vegetable soup and bread would be eaten at noon and cheese with bread in the evening. At both meals people would eat standing and in silence. The custom, widespread in Catholic countries, of marking every new loaf of bread with the sign of the cross took on a special meaning on Good Friday. In Austria, for instance, Karfreitaglaib, bread with a cross imprinted on it, was eaten on this day.

But the most famous Good Friday bread is the hot cross bun. According to legend, Father Rocliff, the priest in charge of distributing bread to the poor at Saint Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire, decorated buns with a cross in honor of Our Lord’s Passion. The custom endured well into the nineteenth century and spread throughout England, where hot cross buns were sold on the streets, as the nursery rhyme tells us, for “one a penny, two a penny.” Today, hot cross buns are available during all of Lent.

Several pious superstitions grew up around hot cross buns, such as the belief that they would never grow moldy and that antagonists would be reconciled if they shared one. Good Friday hot cross buns were kept throughout the year for their curative properties; if someone “fell ill, a little of the bun was grated into water and given to the sick person to aid his recovery.” Some
folks believed that eating them on Good Friday would protect your home from fire, while others wore them “as charms against disease, lightning, and shipwreck”!

Instead of moldy hot cross buns, try our Fava Bean Hummus with Bitter Herbs.

Fava Bean Hummus with Bitter Herbs

Serves: 4 Cooking time: 15 minutes

2 cups dried fava beans
2 Tbsps. tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. olive oil, plus more for the end of the cooking process
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper
2 tsps. lemon juice
4 endives, separated
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
4 pita breads, toasted with a light drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper

  1. Soak fava beans in 3 cups warm water for 20 minutes, until tender.
  2. Drain the water and put the beans in a food processor or large pestle, and pulse or grind them until smooth.
  3. Add the tahini, garlic, olive oil, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, and lemon juice and pulse or grind in the pestle until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  4. Pour out the hummus onto a plate, drizzle with more olive oil (approximately 1 more Tbsp.), garnish with fresh parsley and mint, and serve with separated endives leaves and pita bread.

Food for Thought

On Good Friday the faithful venerate the wood of the cross. Although this pious act may be interpreted cynically as worshiping an instrument of death, it is in fact a recognition of how Jesus took what was designed for death and reconfigured it into a sign of hope, no matter the pain or sorrow. Today, consider the crosses in your life, hold them gently in your hands, and pray that God will give you the strength to carry them and even see their value.

The preceding is an excerpt from Dining with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Righeous Feast by Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Michael Foley (Regnery, 2023)