Sunday, 1 February 2015

Dunkin retro biscuits: what links frolicking ferns with vanilla creams ?

Derived from the latin "bis cotus", twice baked, biscuits are a quaintly typical British food.  Probably acculturated as a staple for their usefulness in the navy, the dry bake providing natural preservative qualities for epic voyages.   Nations like England, France and Holland built their empires under the power of sails and its interesting to see how enduring its culinary impact has been.  

Another cracking example is marmalade, that really should be called orange jam.  The preserved citrus dose was used to kerb scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) for sailors. Side bar: the American nickname for Brits 'Limey' derives from popular consumption of citrus limes. 

How old are they ?

Rich Tea 17th C

Digestives 1839

Cadbury Fingers 1897

Bourbon 1920

Oreo 1912

Chocolate Digestive 1925

Jaffa cakes 1927

Wagon wheels 1948

Maryland cookies 1956

Hob nob 1986

My favourite - the fig roll (or newton) was probably invented by the Egyptians.

Ferntastic Cream Trivia

Iconically British are the Custard Cream, a vanilla flavoured sandwich with a cream filling, so popular that the name was entered, with cosplay, in the 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.  Historically produced by companies such as Carrs and Crawfords they are now even honoured by Britain's favourite coffee shop, Costa, with an uber sized variant that packs enough calories to deserve a meal sized government health warning. 

The stalwart custard cream was invented in 1908 and since voted 13 times Britain's favourite biscuit.  The McVitie's Carlisle based factory, that employs 125 staff, bakes 6.5 million each day, but you will find a range of brands offering these historic value-branded packs low down and high up on the supermarket shelves, pushed aside by their glitzier stable mates.  The Guinness record holding Custard Cream weighed in at more than 15 kg and measured 59 cm long.  Surely a meal for a small village and not something you would look to dunk in your tea !

Uber sized retro snacks or meal occasion ?

Here follows a piece of trivia you will want to instantly forget, as reciting it will make you appear to be more nerdy than you would ever want to be. I blame listening to too much Radio 4.  The Custard Cream sports an historic design element that reflected a popular, flirty pass time.  The indented, swirling edge patterns are in fact fern fronds.   Ferns, yes - those plain, evergreen, flowerless plants that fester in dark, damp corners.  

Advanced empire technology, in this case Wardian cases, allowed tender imports to be grown in sealed glass cases in Englands harsher climates and collecting different varieties of ferns became quite a rage.  Late Victorian and Edwardian ladies were able to fraternise with members of the opposite sex during fern hunting expeditions. By all accounts, it was a popular pass time and historians draw important cultural links to early emancipation, and insinuated flirting.   

Fern hunting even has its own latin derived label 'pteriadomania' and was perceived to be a healthy, educational and morally acceptable pastime until it fell out of fashion with the onset of the Great War.   Now forget you ever read it!

Too Dunk or Not to Dunk ?

After years of global jet-set living, I have noticed that dunking is a strangely British habit, that of dipping your biscuit of choice into hot, milky tea, whilst taking great care to avoid losing any in the drink.  Battered and slightly cracked plain digestives are my nemesis, the rough oaty texture seems to blossom into a sensual mush that, when timed to perfection literally melts on the tongue.  But, with a larger, circular design that is often too broad for standard mugs, and requiring a multi-dunk strategy, there is a high-to-extreme likelihood of a floating-flop situation, resulting in a totally ruined cuppa.  

There must be some sub-conscious dunk etiquette ?  First up - check with your co-consuming group that dunking is permitted (some do not tolerate such low brow behaviours, never even ask at business dinners), then explain to anyone from 'overseas' that it really is considered ok to sink your baked delight into your warm beverage and finally, note that ideally just two immersions are permitted that should provide 60%+ of the surface area with a good soaking.  Fingers must NEVER touch liquid.  Absolutely no floating floppers allowed.  I must ask Paul Hollywood his view on this, Mary Berry I suspect would tut with extreme disapproval.  

Literal calls to excess consumption

I love literal brand names like Qik-Fit, Dunkin Donuts, Yellow Pages, Black Circles, and alike.  Simple, basic but effective, often being memorable in a highly utilitarian manner.  In closing this blog entry, I share this South African import brand (below) of my favourite biscuits, fig rolls (although perhaps without the figs)  EET-SUM-MOR, uses an inspired corruption of the English language, yet delivers a very clear communication of the brands key appeal.   Yummy, yummy, in my tummy !

South African bluntly Literal 'Call to Arms' ?