When I was a child, we used to go to mass every Sunday, and when we came out my mum would take us to the shop to buy a bag of sweets. Now and again she chose a little pink bar of rubbery ‘Fry’s Turkish Delight’, so for years we had it in our heads that she liked Turkish Delight. As the seven of us got older we would compete at Christmas over who could hunt down the highest quality stuff. Then one day came the bombshell: she thought we were old enough to take the news that she never actually liked Turkish Delight…
I feel a bit the same about my relationship to a speciality biscuit that comes from the Swiss city of Basel, known as the ‘Basler Läckerli’ (from the German word ‘lecker’, meaning tasty). My friend Willi is an English teacher in Basle and every year he comes to stay bearing a bundle of these biscuits. Every year I feign delight. I’ve known him for 30 years, so I feel our friendship may now be on a strong enough footing to let him know that I don’t actually like these biscuits.
This biscuit, if indeed it deserves that title, is an odd confection. It tastes of uncooked flour, cinnamon and a surfeit of orange peel. It has no crunch whatsoever and furthermore, when eaten, furs up the roof of your mouth with an unpleasant goo that can only be flushed out by swigging large amounts of tea.
The informative entry in Wikipedia tells you that this biscuit was devised by local spice merchants 700 years ago. I can well believe it. Clearly this biscuit was made in the days before anyone had of thought of temperature controlled ovens, chocolate chips, soft caramel, pink wafers or any of the other yummy accoutrements which the modern biscuit sports.
It probably was fine with a midmorning glass of mead, but a biscuit with no crunch whatsoever is like a perfume without a smell – what’s the point?
I have only myself to blame. I should have said it long ago, but I didn’t dare pierce anyone’s civic pride. We are all so cynical in Britain. Swiss people, on the other hand, are not just proud of their country, they’re proud of their canton. Basle is a beautiful city on the river Rhine, it has theatres and galleries, functioning libraries and a very pretty town hall.
Be that as it may, it’s now time to act. At first it was just Willi who bought me ‘Basler Läckerli’, so it was easier to put on a brave face. Now whenever his friends come to visit they too bring ever larger fancy tins of the same. The blurb on the back of one tin even celebrated the fact that this biscuit has no crunch: “why not put it in the roof of your mouth and suck it” it suggested.
Is this a biscuit for people with no teeth? I would no more suck my biscuit than put it in my tea and drink it through a straw. If I wanted a biscuit to suck I could buy myself a Farleys rusk and even that has a crunch for heaven’s sake. Could it just be that the‘Basler Läckerli’ is the world’s most pointless biscuit?
Lila Das Gupta