I am always slightly nervous about presenting recipes which are distinctly regional: locals tend to be fiercely defensive, proprietary even. about how their particular delicacy should be made and enjoyed. Devon and Cornwall have long been engaged in a battle as to whether cream or jam comes first on their otherwise very similar scones (personally, if you’re offering me a freshly made scone, loaded up with delicious things, I have absolutely no interest in the order of their piling), and the Cornish are so protective of their eponymous pasty, that they campaigned for years for it to receive Protected Geographical Indication, meaning that it must be manufactured in Cornwall. I dread the thought of angering an entire region with a recipe – but when it comes to Bath buns, it’s even more dicey.
The Bath bun has been enjoyed in the city of Bath for over 300 years – the first reference to it comes from none other than Jane Austen, who wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1801 to say that, if Cassandra would not be joining her, she would eat as many Bath buns as possible: ‘there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at, and though, to be sure, the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns.’
But 300 years later, controversy remains as to what a Bath bun is: it’s thought that in the late 17th century, a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon came to Bath and began baking buns. She, and the buns, became known as Sally Luns (immortalised in Charles Dickens’ novella The Chimes). According to Sally Lunn’s tearoom, which is in the original building where Solange or Sally baked her buns, the buns should be the (toasted) base of sweet and savoury dishes, topped with Welsh Rarebit, served alongside boeuf bourguignon or coated with lemon curd.