Within the pages of Collingham’s hymn to the biscuit, we also stay closer to home, while travelling back in time to the genteel manors of sixteenth- century England, where nobility such as Lady Elinor Fettiplace, in her Cotswold-stone house, would repair to her “still room” to become alchemist, physician and confectioner all at once. As well as candying flowers and distilling rose water, she prepared “light bisket bread”, like crisp sponge fingers, which, in the right box, could keep for years. Visitors were served one or two fingers along with “a jug of posset”. Collingham provides a modern version of seventeenth-century sponge fingers, flavoured with rose water or orange-flower. This is one of many recipes scattered through the book – ranging from Jammie Dodgers to Anzac biscuits – most of which sound delicious, perhaps none more so than the one for sweet rusk spice biscuits, which she suggests dipping “in a single malt whisky”.Collingham’s hymn to the biscuit
What you get is well-researched, detailed information, but written as a clear and interesting story. I hate to think of how much truly boring information about the biscuit she must have ploughed through to hone it down to a fascinating tale of myth, medicine, economics, and survival of armies and navies — and not just of the biscuit, which has been around at least since the third millennium BC, when cooks in Mesopotamia found that drying their bread in the sun meant it didn’t go stale or mouldy. This quickly led to drying by the fire or in the oven, hence bi-cuit (twice-cooked).
While it’s undoubtedly interesting, this book examines food history through an extremely narrow lens, perhaps offering more information about biscuits than many people would care to have. That said, The Biscuit is elegantly produced and the recipes and potted histories of different biscuits (everything you may wish to know about digestives, garibaldis and fig rolls is in here) interspersed throughout the book help to punctuate what could make for somewhat dense reading.