SOMEONE ONCE HAD the cruelty to ask me what my favourite biscuit was. I stood there, wasting several moments of our time, before not arriving at a conclusion. ‘I like custard creams,’ I said unconvincingly, ‘but I don’t know – I like cookies and Garibaldis, too…’
I’m afraid to say that my stance has still not changed, and I am still as indecisive as I was then. If I asked you the same question, though, you’ll probably have your undying favourite. But let’s be honest here. When you’ve been presented with a plate of biscuits – or even worse, one of those special tins – and you’re staring embarrassed into the face of the host, can you decide straightaway? You’re filled with that horrendous ‘do I/don’t I linger?’ moment before debating whether to choose the most extravagant one of them all (and deprive the others of the choice) or humbly except the self-effacing shortbread. Either way, you struggle to choose as well, don’t you?
‘Biscuit’ comes from the French (ironically) and means ‘twice-cooked’, referring to the sorts of biscuits they used to eat which were more like crackers or babies’ rusks than the things we eat today. It’s safe to say biscuits have come a long way since: each person eats on average just under 12kg of biscuits a year! It doesn’t sound an awful amount (to me, anyway, but I’m useless at estimations), but it’s the highest in Europe, and in malted milk terms that’s around 1700 of them – which is quite a bit of biscuit. And I don’t know anybody that will just take one biscuit, but rather two. Or three. Or four if you’ve had a hard day. And maybe that’s it – if we were just after a sugar rush, we could get that through spooning caster sugar into our mouths, but we don’t. Perhaps it’s not just the sweetness of a biscuit that we’re after, but something else. Perhaps it’s because of the way they make us feel that we love them so much.
My grandmother is an unofficially-titled biscuit junkie and I can still remember her allowing me a biscuit from the biscuit jar in the evenings when we would stay. I remember the scent of biscuit-dunked-in-tea even today. It’s a good smell, unquestionably, and still transports me back to those childhood evenings. But enough of nostalgia, because I think my point is fairly clear. For me, biscuits can be a portal to a brief moment of happiness as well as tasting good. I’m sure you’ve got your own attachment to biscuits, for whatever reason, and I don’t know whether it’s a conscious or subconscious thing when we reach for a bourbon cream, but I think it’s definitely more than just sugar.
Other than ‘football’ or ‘weather’ (and other things, admittedly), I don’t think there are many other two-syllable words that can get Brits talking so passionately. Ask yourself: what would a cup of tea be without a biscuit? You’re right in thinking it would just be a cup of tea, because it would, but in fact, a cup of tea without a biscuit can be likened to a bath without bubbles or a present without a bow and ribbon or – and I will go there – chips without the salt and vinegar. You don’t need the biscuit but it just makes it a bit more special. Without it, it is just a cup of tea. It’s just a bath. It’s just a present (which I’m still grateful for without the decorations, by the way). Biscuits are actually things to behold, and in a world of stress and struggle, if we can glean just a little bit of self-indulgence from a matchbox-sized rectangle of 44 calories, then I think we’re doing all right.