Biscuit Etiquette – Part 2

The biscuit world is awash with pretenders and charlatans. We’ve all seen them…offering the promise of cake when they’re clearly nothing of the kind, or wearing airs and graces that sit oddly with the paucity of their origins. Thankfully there is at least one biscuit that wears a nobility and bearing that brings certainty to the world. A confection upon which a way of life can be built. A teatime snack that is all things to all men. I speak of course of the wondrous Digestive.

Its unassuming face and structure suggest a simplicity that most find comforting and instantly appealing. Here you will not discover sticky fillings that must be carefully negotiated, or flaky carapaces that seem taut to the point of explosion as they approach the unwary mouth. No. The quiet, determined aura of the Digestive reassures you that it’s on your side.

As Nelson prepared his battle plans for the engagement at Trafalgar, and wrestled with the dangers of his ‘Touch’ manoeuver, you know that as he slumped into his captains chair, took his tea in his hands, felt the gentle roll of the cabin beneath his feet, and picked up a digestive that his kindly steward had saved for a time as dark as this, he would have felt his worries melt away and his courage return whilst in the company of such reserved strength.

While Churchill prepared his ‘On the beaches’ speech you can be certain that a plate of digestives nestled nearby. Shakespeare’s original manuscripts are no doubt awash with brown crumbs that even now remain sweet to the taste. If only Captain Oates had remembered to include a pack of them in his rucksack while preparing for the antarctic expedition then maybe things would have turned out different…

So what makes the digestive so special? Well, it has a unique place in the nation’s heart in so far as you will find it just as readily being dunked into the tea of builders while on their tea-break as you will on the fine china plate of royalty. The special blend of sweetness, alongside the perfect balance of tensile strength that means it stays crisp in the bite but quickly melts into your mouth, lends it what William Blake once described as a ‘fearful symmetry’.Β  It can bear being buttered to make digestive sandwiches, brave the hot waters of tea without falling apart, and dwell happily amongst its biscuit brethren without appearing to be trying too hard.

In many ways it represents the British as we want to be seen. A stiff upper lip, hardy in the travel, most palatable, and able to walk with paupers and kings. Ask anyone whether they want a digestive and the answer will be unanimous in the affirmative – unless the people you are proffering them too are either escaped mental patients or possibly French.

So, the digestive is a confectionary representation of the British ideal. It is quite simply Michael Palin in biscuit form.

13 thoughts on “Biscuit Etiquette – Part 2”

  1. Excellent post as always Martyn, however, I would have to disagree. The digestive is a wiley beast. It seduces you with promises of superior dunking stability, but in the hands of non-experienced dunker, it can break that promise in a cruel and vicous manner. A few seconds too long in the tea can render a split across its circumfrence which can lead to that hideous of situations; a sloppy pile of sodden biscuit breaking away from the rest of the biscuit and languishing at the bottom of the cup.

    I shudder just thinking of it. It’s the russian roulette of dunking.


  2. A fine point, well made Colin.

    The dangers of dunking are indeed prevalent with the Digestive. The thing that sets it apart from other such potential disasters (see Rich Tea once more) is that the Digestive urges you on with its promise. Rather than frustration, the new-dunker sees a path worthy of travelling, and a goal that is possible to attain with diligence and bravery.

    You see, the biscuit itself becomes both the muse and the master. Let’s see a jaffa cake pull that off!


  3. Martyn, I’m sorry to have to point out that you’ve missed the digestive’s finest hour- sandwiching toasted marshmallows fresh off the campfire…


  4. Excellent post, sir! You have successfully created a sense of longing and disappointment in myself for not having a Digestive with my morning tea. I didn’t realized there was such a gaping hole in my daily habits. This is definitely a situation that must be remedied before I suffer the same fate as Captain Oates.


  5. I can see your point Martyn, the digestive could and does often reward the focussed green-horn dunker with almost the perfect tea-soaked biscuit experience> maybe I’m too lazy to perfect the art of digestive dunking, but I prefer the hardy stubbon ‘none-shall-break’ attitude of an oaty hob-knob as my dunker candidate of choice – would be interesting to see if that is on a future list of biscuit etiquette.


  6. The Hob-Nob has much to offer, of that there is no question.

    I daresay it will find its way into the canon soon enough.

    A dunking masterclass is also in preparation, and possibly even the idea of a dunk-off.

    Such fun lies ahead… πŸ™‚


  7. Martyn, I am impressed at the depth of meaning you can get from a simple biscuit. Here in the USA we simply eat Oreos because they taste good. Now I feel so…shallow. πŸ™‚


  8. “this is the best way to drink Hot Chocolate” says Aisa dunking in her digestive in the park.


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