Hot cross bun season feels like a fitting time to share my core belief that sultanas, currants, raisins, and other variations of ‘dried grape’ are fundamentally bad.
They diminish the edibility of every finger bun, biscuit, breakfast cereal, trail mix, or chocolate in which they reveal themselves. Even the noble bhuja mix is sullied by their presence. To me, the flavour is passable. It is their texture – not quite chewy, not quite gelatinous, occasionally laden with a tiny seed that sticks between your teeth – that frustrates me. Why make a perfectly good fruit that much worse? And why inflict that sadness on seasonal baked goods?
Easter has some precedence as a time for martyrdom, so I should have expected a backlash when I shared my views in the office. After declaring dried grapes are trash, a coworker told me I am the one who is trash. “Happy to report David has been fired,” one of my colleagues said. “I’m gonna get hot cross buns on the way home from work, paid for by the job I still have,” said another.
“Thirty pieces of silver,” I replied.
I get it. Disliking sultanas hardly precludes one from Australian society, but I’d be lying if the annual influx of hot cross buns didn’t remind me of the subtle ways our tastes – our literal, on-the-tongue tastes – can keep us just removed from the mainstream.
In the same way the food brought to Australia by the first European settlers has been enlivened by successive waves of migration and the slow embrace of Indigenous food culture, reimagining the hot cross bun – and its relation to the sultana – might not be such a terrible thing.
Historians posit that hot cross buns were pilfered by Christians from pagan traditions anyway; in fact, the Christian celebration of Easter has ties to the pagan goddess Eostre.
Why not play with the sacred, both literal and figurative?
In the past 18 months, Australia has been introduced to sticky date hot cross buns, hot cross bun ice cream, and even the short-lived hot cross bao. This is to say nothing of the fruit-free or caramel-packed variants which stuff supermarket shelves nationwide.
A bakery manager at a Melbourne Coles store told me he received a shipment of frozen hot cross buns on Boxing Day; if we follow the logic that Christmas recognises Christ’s birth and Easter his crucifixion and resurrection, that December shipment suggests we give very little time to actually consider that dude’s 33 years on Earth.
The same manager, bleary-eyed after several early mornings manning the ovens, said choc chip hot cross buns – which omit dried fruit entirely – are challenging their sultana’d brethren for checkout supremacy.
It’s still unlikely the original variant will disappear from the Australian Easter celebrations any time soon. The founders of Melbourne’s popular Tivoli Road Bakery, Michael and Pippa James, say in their cookbook they usually end up having a hot cross bun-free Easter “as there are never any to spare.”
I swung by the bakery to try one for myself. Sitting there on the kitchen counter, its glaze shone in the afternoon light. I cut it in half, toasted it, and let two pallets of butter melt into its pillowy dough.
It was soft. It was sweet. It smelled good.
I took a bite and clenched my teeth, chewing through the still-warm bun and waiting for the inevitable.
It would have been perfect – if it weren’t for the sultanas.
To my fellow sultana-haters: hold tight. We’ll make it through. Chocolate bunnies are still the best part of Easter, anyway.Image: REDA&CO / Getty Images