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Monday, 16 April 2012

Lesson in food 1 - In Britain, they're biscuits!

So I came across an interesting magazine a few weeks back which I have never seen before, it's called 'oh comely' (www.ohcomely.co.uk/) and it had a really interesting article about the history of the biscuit. I thought I would put it up here for friends to read because it needed to be shared.

(words by Roseanne Durham and illustrations by Kiley Victoria)

ship's biscuit
For centuries, biscuits were useful more than they were delicious. Long lasting, easy to pack and nutritious, they were taken on board ships or stowed away in the luggage of explorers. Most were made from hardtrack, the simple biscuit batter that the Romans used as early as the fourth century AD.

The nice biscuit has a secret ingredient: coconut. In case you were wondering, it's not from Nice, the balmy hot town in the south of France, but from England, although the manufacturer probably named it after the town as a marketing tactic. Huntley and Palmers were making them in 1904, when over 400 biscuit varieties were available. Only thirty or so biscuits are on the British super are shelf today, so this biscuit has con pretty well to survive the years after the Second World War, when hundreds of biscuit varieties ceased production. The shameless advertisement embossed in sans-serif type paid off.

The bourbon chocolate biscuit was made in 1910 out of a South London factory. At the top of the bourbon there are ten dots, called docker holes in the biscuit industry. They are punched into the batter, and let the moisture in the centre of the centre of the biscuit evaporate, ensuring a crisper bake.

rich tea
Rich tea biscuits were introduced in the seventeenth century as a snack to pas the hungry hours between meals. But don't let their 400-year-old heritage fool you into thinking they taste good. You can eat a whole packet, and still puzzle over the barely- there flavour. At least Prince William likes them. He ordered a biscuit cake for his wedding , and asked for the main ingredient to be rich teas. The royal connection got people curious about the quaint rich tea. Factory tours followed, along with rich tea processing lines, and interviews about the fine art of measuring biscuits so they fit in the packet. Not the hype has died down, the biscuits are back on the shelf and doing what they do best: being dunked into a mug of your favourite brew. Dipped into tea, this biscuits becomes a different creature: fleshy, half-liquid and plain tasty.

The garibaldi is made of two layers of pastry with dried fruit squished between them. In school playgrounds, they are known as squished fly biscuits. When [I] was little, he biscuits seemed like a conspiracy on the part of the adult world to pawn off their dead flies on the under-tens. Alas, nothing is as strange about the history of the garibaldi. The Italian general Garibaldi was battling for Italian Unification in the 1840s, and created the biscuit from merging the food supplies available. Although he made a visit to England in 1854, his biscuit was first manufactured several years later in 1861.

rich tea finger
The rich tea finger is a homage to the pursuit of dipping biscuits in hot drinks. A smaller, thinner version of its round sibling, the finger benefits from having a higher bake so it stays together for several seconds longer as you dunk.

The digestive has a roster of imitators and a rainbow of special toppings including milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and caramel. So ubiquitous is the semi-sweet biscuit, one could easily forget that it was named after a bodily process. It's Victorian investors calls it a digestive, because of the sodium bicarbonate added to the batter, which was believed to settle the stomach. It was one of several biscuits that reduced flatulence and are today sold in pet shops. Nowadays it's widely accepted that eating digestives after a meal will not help your digestion, just make you more full.

chocolate digestives
Sweet biscuits are on the out, becoming less popular as people care more about trimming the fat and sugar content out of their diet. Or so market research tells us. Eat chocolate digestives while you can then, just in case.

pink wafer
If you don't enjoy the tooth-rotting sweetness of the link wafer, consider buying them anyway. They look good on a plate, double up as edible lego bricks, and are very good for playing jenga.

jaffa cake
Is the Jaffa cake a biscuits or a cake? In 1991, the world got an answer. They're cakes. Why this matters might be a better question. Chocolate covered cakes are exempt from tax and chocolate-covered biscuits are not, so Mcvities brought the question to court. They even baked a gigantic Jaffa cake to convince the jury of its cake-like properties. See here: there's jam in the middle, chocolate on top and sponge on the bottom. But outside of court, everyone else knows that Jaffa cakes are biscuits by another name.

peanut butter cookies
(I'm just going to preface this one by saying I'm really surprised its in this list since I have never seen them in any shop here...)
As for a biscuit Stateside, and you'll get given a soft, round scone. The American English for biscuit is cookie. Peanut butter cookies were the cookie of [my] childhood. We used a recipe from the legendary Betty Crocker cookbook that included forgotten biscuits like petticoat tails, snicker doodles, and chocolate spritz. Buying a packet of digestives from the supermarket doesn't beat stating through the oven and willing your concoction of butter, sugar, and flour to hurry up and bake, please.

Well I hope you enjoyed that, this concludes your lesson on the British Biscuit.


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