It is Friday morning, the first day of the Easter Weekend. We are on day 15 of a (just extended) 35-day national lockdown due to the Coronavirus.
I toasted a hot cross bun for breakfast this morning. I felt a moment of guilt, since a hot cross bun has little nutritional value to me – my breakfasts, besides being high on my pleasure scale, usually consist of good quality carbohydrates, plenty of protein and healthy fats.
“How can a hot cross bun be nourishing?”, I asked myself.
I knew the moment I took a bite.
I was instantly transported to the family farm where I spent many Easter long-weekends as a child. Our family would set off on the long drive into the semi-desert Karoo on Thursday around mid-day or a bit later, as soon as school was out. We would stop somewhere along the way for a meal (hamburger and chips!) at a fuel-station restaurant. The last part of the drive would seem to last forever, on a dirt road with lots of bumps, hills and dust. Eventually when it was dark, sometimes already late at night, we would pull up to the farm house, my Uncle Ernst and Aunty Joey meeting us excitedly at the gate. We would all tumble out of the car, stretching after the long car ride and exchange deep, loving hugs with our people that we haven’t seen in a long time. We would be ushered into the kitchen and given some freshly baked farm bread with butter and home-made jam, or rusks with some tea or coffee to go with it, and soon after we would all be shown to our rooms and go to bed, exhausted. For a city kid, the nights on the farm was unusually dark, and it took me a while to get used to – I would wake up in the middle of the first night and think I had gone blind as I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
By now, Friday morning, I would be sitting with my mom, my Aunt Joey and my Aunt Mara who would have arrived earlier the previous day, in the sun room knitting. It was usually terribly cold on the farm this time of year, but it would be cozy in the sun room, and we would sit there knitting, chatting, flipping through magazines, reading… And at some stage during the morning, the toasted hot cross buns would be brought out, buttered and enjoyed with coffee.
Over the next few days there would be long walks in the dry, dusty, rocky hills, the smell of sheep droppings and the dry bushes that grow there and breathing crisp, cold, fresh air, rides on an ancient wooden trailer pulled by tractor, driven by either my uncle or one of my cousins, drawing Easter pictures (crucifixions, bunnies, easter eggs…) with my cousin at the dining room table or on the lounge floor, scavenging for treasures on the nearby farm dump (hoping for an antique glass bottle or piece of china), bottle-feeding orphaned lambs who were housed in the barn, target shooting at tin cans with an air rifle, and lots and lots of delicious food (I get my love of cooking and baking from my aunts – both formidable cooks)…
I do remember those early, mysterious feelings of guilt for over-indulging, the discomfort of eating too much, AND simultaneously the immense pleasure that was to be found in the kneading of bread dough, the smells from the kitchen, the tastes at the table, the hospitality and generosity of my aunt and uncle, being included in adult conversation at the big dining room table, the being together with family.
And this is how that hot-cross bun nourished my soul this morning. I am thankfully in lockdown with my husband and grown children, but I am unable to see my parents and my siblings. I ate my hot cross bun slowly and consciously (as I do), appreciating the sweetness, the spiciness and the fruitiness of this traditional Easter treat, filled with happy memories, in gratitude, and in loving memory of my aunt and uncle who have since both passed away.
Food is more than nutrients. Food nourishes us on many levels – mind, body and soul.