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’. 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.