Many children in Australia grow up enjoying fairy bread at birthday parties. I certainly did. Now, my children look forward to this iconic treat. I was curious about the history of fairy bread, and discovered there’s not a lot of information about the origins of the delicacy. The closest I could find was the Dutch’s hagelslag, which is essentially bread with chocolate sprinkles. There are a couple of mentions in early Australian newspapers.
First is the Hobart Mercury on 25 April 1929, page 9. The article asks citizens to ‘bring a plate’ to the Big Swan Party in honour of Princess Elizabeth for the children at the Consumptive Sanatorium. Children with consumption (also known as tuberculosis or TB) were housed in the Sunbeam Chalet at the Consumptive Sanatorium. I found a fascinating, albeit sobering, report on mortality from 1907, and tuberculosis for children under 15 accounted 4% of deaths in this age group, with diarrhoea and pneumonia topping the list (Department of Commerce and Labor Bureau of the Census 1909, Mortality statistics 1907, Washington: Gov’t. Print. Office, p. 511). The dedicated children’s hut, Sunbeam Chalet, was opened in Hobart in 1925 by Miss Margaret O’Grady, and attended by Captain Bennett. Picture this: a two-year-old patient by the name of Barbara Bow toddling up to Miss O’Grady and presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. Four years later, fairy bread was served at the Big Swan Party and there’s something sweet, perhaps bittersweet, about the thought of fairy bread being served to sick kids. The part mentioning fairy bread reads:
There is also a mention of fairy bread later in Perth’s The Sunday Times, 7 October, 1934, page 7. Joy Moore sent the paper a poem titled ‘Fairy Bread’ which was written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (13 November 1850-3 December 1894) and found in his book, A Child’s Garden of Verses (published in 1885). I found an online copy, and the verses are lovely; read it here.
COME up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.
Despite the vague origins of fairy bread, it’s a well established icon of Australia, synonymous with childhood and birthday parties. I even have an Aussie Treats necklace featuring fairy bread. Made by Saturday Lollipop.
I think us Aussies love fairy bread so much because it’s super easy to make. You can throw together a plate for a birthday party in a jiffy; add a plate of fruit and you are party-ready-to-go. Russell Crowe nailed it in a conversation on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (8 Apr 2016):
“It’s like, the cheapest possible birthday treat you can think of. You get some white bread, butter it — right. And then you get what we call 100s and 1000s, then you pour it over the bread, and…’There you go kids!'”
How to Make Fairy Bread
Fairy bread, as we all know, is super simple to make. BUT, there are some rules that I don’t know how I know!
- You must make it on (fresh) white bread. If you’re going to embrace this sweet treat, don’t try and make it healthier with wholemeal or grain bread, as proven in this meme.
- You must use round 100s and 1000s. Don’t try it with long sprinkles or fairy bread will be ruined forever
- Fairy bread is best cut in triangles. However squares are passable. Shapes are also okay on the odd occasion. Because fairy bread.
- Fairy bread can be made with crust (because easy) or without crust.
Have I left anything out?
I recently made heart fairy bread for Valentine’s Day. Oh the nostalgia! If you’re making shape bread with a cutter, keep the outside part of the bread and make Egg in the Basket (or Toad in a Hole) with egg or make a puzzle and have the heart inside covered in sprinkles inside the outer casing.