• 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.

Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Biscuits

Literature can help us understand life and all that, but more important is what it can tell us about the biscuit. We start with Oscar Wilde, for he has much to say, and is the gateway to a wondrous world.

“I can resist everything except temptation.”

Without doubt, Mr Wilde was wiping his chops of the last crumbs of the last biscuit of the pack when he so quipped. Some might argue that there are other explanations. They would be wrong.  While I (and I am rather afraid to say it here) sometimes forget a packet of opened biscuits until, weeks later, I chance upon their flaccid forms in the back of a cupboard, it is very clear to me that this is /not /normal or acceptable behaviour. Nature abhors a vacuum, and human beings abhor an opened, but unfinished, biscuit packet. Maybe it’s because biscuits are delicious: that’s when we eat a whole pack alone and don’t tell anyone else that they ever existed.

But biscuits are also comfort eating of the purest kind – not about greed – but about solace and a simple offering of friendship and care. I haven’t forgotten Oscar. He had a long-running association, of sorts, with biscuits through his friendship with the Palmer family, Reading’s great biscuit entrepreneurs. His name can be found in the factory’s guestbook from 1892. Three years later, Wilde was back in Reading: this time in the gaol. I don’t think the gaol was much fun, but we are told that he received some special treatment: when a friendly warder wanted to ease Wilde’s time he provided him with paper – for his writing – and Huntley & Palmers ginger biscuits – for his soul, I assume.

His time in the gaol inspired some of Wilde’s best work, including powerful writing on the brutal treatment of children in the prison system. He describes a small, uncomprehending boy in Reading: a boy with a face “like a white wedge of sheer terror….in his eyes the terror of a hunted animal”, shut in the dark and crying all day and half the night. Wilde thought the diet of bread and water was bad enough for a child, but what really stoked his ire was biscuits. A warder (the same who showed kindness to Wilde with the ginger biscuits)* saw the child “crying with hunger …and utterly unable to eat the bread and water served to it.” Thus, Wilde tells us, he “bought a few sweet biscuits for the child rather than see it starving. It was a beautiful action on his part”**

I didn’t really notice at the time, but I now realise that, as a child returning home from school, no homework or playing ever commenced until after my Mother’s ritual offering of the biscuit tin. And I find it hard to recollect a time when guests visited and the tin did not emerge: each biscuit saying “You are welcome. Be comfortable. Enjoy.”

I mentioned a wondrous journey. I’m a tease: that comes in the next post…

* Let him be named: kindly warder Thomas Martin.

** A beautiful action that saw him dismissed

Frugilegus

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2 Responses

  1. I lived in Reading for a few months in 1993 whilst completing my Masters dissertation. It really grieved me to see the closed Huntley & Palmers complex in the centre of the town. It was like some of my nicest childhood memories associated with their biscuits were being tossed casually aside.

  2. Huntley and Palmers…the name is bringing back a dimly remembered biscuit – round, plain and sweet, perhaps a bit shortbready? with lots of little pimples on the top. oooh! what was it? those neurons have died!

    I now live close to the remains of the old factory – a fine building now converted to flats.

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