• The Tenuous Purpose

    This Blog is built - not, as some might expect, on a flimsy whim but on a strong and single minded principle.

    That principle concerns Biscuits and their position in the world.

    We are really very keen on biscuits.
    As are many of you out there.
    We think.

    We wish to create an archive of Arrowroot, a backlog of Bourbons and a catalogue of Chocolate Fingers. Anybody can contribute an entry - or dispute somebody else's - provided they are not dull.
    Even Americans who perhaps don't really have the heritage of biscuitry that we are fortunate to have here.

    Or maybe they do and we are unaware of the full glory of the cookie.

    We realise that this whole subject is admirably and concisely dealt with by that excellent and unbeatable website A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Our feeble efforts will be as the kicking of a gadfly in the face of their wisdom and experience but we hope that we may have a small contribution to make.

  • Biscuit Encounters on Twitter

  • The Synod of Biscuitry

    James Alexander-Sinclair of Blackpitts
    Gardener, Blogger, Journalist, Lecturer etc, etc. Much of his life is spent loafing around other people’s gardens issuing directives and generally cluttering up the place. However, like the great Mr Kipling, he does (occasionally) make exceptionally good gardens. (Although even Mr Kipling messed up a bit with the Carrot and Walnut Mini Classics.)

    Mark Diacono of Otter Farm
    He does sterling work growing many inappropriate plants in Devon. He dedicates a great deal of time and effort nurturing a plethora of plants that are (mostly) totally unsuited to our climate. His is a life of such extreme eccentric dedication that to start a Blog about Biscuits seems perfectly normal. He treads gently in the footsteps of people like the great William Buckland,a professor of Geology who claimed that he could tell location by tasting the local topsoil.

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Homesick Expat Biscuit Blues

Homesickness comes in strange guises.  When I moved to the USA, in 1964, to spend four years in Upstate New York, I pined a little for English drizzle, for my cold, draughty parental home and for important British things like zebra crossings, red telephone boxes and policemen with phallic hats.  But in the long dark hours, I wept and quaked in an orgy of self-pity because of the agony of  biscuit deprivation.  There were obscenely large, slightly bendy things called ‘cookies,’ at my new home, and startlingly dark,  double-decked confections which resembled sunburnt Custard Creams, and called, I believe, Oreos.

But could I get hold of a firm, crisp, evenly baked Petit Beurre?  No!   Was there, anywhere, a shop which sold Crawford’s Shortbread fingers? Ha ha!  Cadbury Chocolate FIngers?  Nerts!  Plain Chocolate Digestives?  Nah!  Lincolns?  Bourbon?  Osbornes?  Small, rich teas?  No way!

I thought of writing to my maiden great aunt, a much loved childhood confessor of mine who, with advantage of spinsterly ignorance, had talked me through the terrors of awakening sexuality in the same perfunctory way that she dealt with mice in the jam cupboard or a wasp that stung me on the shoulder during a picnic.  She, you see, baked the only biscuit that, even as I write these words, bring tears of nostalgia to prickle my eyelids.  No one –  other than my grandmother, her sister, had the same recipe.  And since Grandmother was as good at cooking as Caligula was at sane, stable government, her renditions of the same biscuits had the taste and texture of newly laid bitumen.

My great aunt’s biscuits were hard to describe.  Thin, tapering to sharp edges, almost perfect discs and rich golden brown, just hovering on the edge of being ever so slightly over baked.  Crisp, they were, but also yielding, so that they snapped and crumbled in exactly the right way when you bit into them.  Once in the mouth, the blend of gingery honey-tinged molasses vapourised and invaded the tastebuds and olfactory thingummyjigs so that one experienced a immediate endorphine rush and swooned gently, almost incapable of taking the next bite but equally incapable of resisting the urge to scoff every one, and then to search, with licked fingers, for the crumbs beneath the cooling rack on her kitchen table.

But I didn’t write to the aunt.  I got over the homesickness and discovered Reeses peanut butter cups, pancakes and crisp, streaky bacon, for breakfast, smoked salmon with bagels and hot New York pretzels.

The only manufactured biscuits that will ever come close to displacing my aunt’s golden perfections are Bahlsen plain Choco Leibnitz.  There once was a thing called a Chocolate Oliver which came in an expensive, cylindrical tin and was also sublime – thick, hard, dark chocolate covering a smaller version of the familiar, slightly anaemic, savoury Bath Oliver which goes so superbly with Stilton or farmhouse Cheddar.  But they gave up making original Chocolate Olivers a long time ago.  Someone took over the brand, and a travesty of the originals turned up, chez nous, last Christmas.  They evoked a cheer when unwrapped, but were a bitter, bitter disappointment.

Nigel Colborn.


7 Responses

  1. There is indeed a chocolate oliver sold in a tall brown cylindrical tin in Fortnum’s sometimes. It is made by a well known British brand of biscuit maker but claims to be made using the patented recipe from the 1930’s. (We have a tin at this moment.) People queue up for it in Fortnum’s.
    But is this not the Real Thing then?

    • Not as I remember them – but perhaps our Christmas tin was a duff one. The best thing about these ‘repro’ choccy Olivers is the tin. Nothing is better for keeping paint brushes in.

      As for F&M – people queue up for the most extraordinary things there. I’ve seen them almost fighting over so-called Melton Mowbray pies or smoked salmon, both of which are just as good from my local Morrisons at a fraction the price. But Fortnum’s rose and violet creme fondant chocolates are utterly divine and it is very good for bloated egos, to be sniffed at and looked down upon by snooty shop assistants from time to time.

      • I am the only person in my immediate family who likes Rose and Violent Cremes (apart from my mother) The others think that they taste of soap.
        Part of me believes they have a good point.

  2. I hope you mean ‘violet cremes’ JAS. Rose and Violet Cremes sound like they might have been rather attractive french exchange students from my youth. Your immediate family is, of course, correct. Drop either a rose or violet creme in the bath at the end of a long hard day and relax

  3. The ‘n’ in Violet is usually silent.

    • We’ve always called them violent cremes. Indeed, in our garden, we refer to the sweet violents which erupt in our wild areas and dog violents which invade my badly maintained borders.

      Of course rose and violent cremes taste of soap. That’s the whole point – you are eating the perfume – a fourth dimension in sensuality.

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