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Sunday 3 Aug 2003

Well I always claim that my first biscuit was a Custard Cream, but this isn't really true. Before my first birthday I had already developed a taste for baked treats. Sharing a birthday as I do with Lady Sarah (Armstrong-Jones) Chatto, it's interesting to read Bickiepegs claim that they are used in Royal Nurseries. We could have both been chomping away on our repective Bickiepegs just as the swinging sixties started to get going.

So some 38 years on I thought we would get ourselves down to the chemist and sample the delights Bickiepegs again. Well what is a Bickiepeg? It's a teething biscuit designed to stimulate and reward the gnawing of a young child's emerging teeth. They have been making them in Aberdeen,Scotland since 1925, and are recommended by doctors and dentists. Looking like a small beige concrete chip, the Bickiepeg comes complete with a hole at one end for inserting a ribbon. This is then pinned to the baby's clothes. As the younger members of staff were no good to me as test subjects, (they all have splendid sets of gnashers with which they meter out mortal damage to left over review biscuits), I had get in there myself.

The ingredients, all three of them, made short reading, 'Wheatflour, Wheatgerm and Water'. Most people don't bother to mention the water, but Bickiepegs needed something to make up the numbers. The front of the box also advises that they contain no added sugar or salt. Well yes, no added anything.

Picking up the little Bickiepeg I started to think about pre-stressed concrete structures that I admire. I decided to risk it without the ribbon. As you might expect the Bickiepeg tastes wheaty, very very wheaty. Infact I had some wheat last week whilst passing through a wheat field, and was instructing the younger members of staff on the raw ingredients of biscuits. We separated the grains of wheat from the few ears we picked and chewed them up. The Bickiepeg tasted wheatier. Ten minutes later I still had made no significant impression upon the durable little stick. I imagine that if you decided to eat chair legs smeared with flour and water paste you'd get a very similar taste sensation. Fifteen minutes in and I'd managed to achieve a slight taper on the first six to seven millimeters.

I now realise why I took to to Custard Creams in such a big way. Anyhow barring the intended uses of Bickiepegs I can imagine a host of uses for them. As an ever lasting breadstick for dips, or as an aid to giving up smoking try chewing on a Bickiepeg for half an hour. If they could make one that tasted like a digestive then we would have invented a sliming aid for millions.

Twenty five minutes in and I had chewed off the top centimeter. At this point I gave up.


Botham's Tea, Shah Ginger and Ginger Choc Chip biscuits

Sunday 27 Jul 2003

Last year we looked at some northern Ginger based products with Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread. Now we've crossed over to the east coast, to the historic Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. Whitby was the home to the explorer Captain James Cook, and is now the home of the much admired family run Botham's Bakery. Now there are of course wonderful bakeries up and down the country, but there aren't that many which have award winning websites from which you can purchase their goods, or that put French and German on their packaging.

Now Bothams have got all sorts of specialties such as their Sticky Ginger Yorkshire Brack, but of course we thought we would take a look at some their biscuits. So not one, but three biscuits of the week this week. Each pack consists of ten large biscuits and as these are baked individually by hand then each one accordingly is an individual. The ginger biscuits even had a little flat edge, where they must have continued creep before hardening after packing (second biscuit from the top, top right edge). Each biscuit weighs 20g, and some are round whilst others are slightly oval. Of course these are exactly the sorts of things to take pleasure in from a hand made product.

The 'tea' biscuits are a light, crispy crunchy biscuit with a caramel taste and they appeared ever so slightly darker than the Shah Ginger biscuits. The Shah gingers themselves were very much like the the tea biscuits in texture, with the Ginger ringing through with a fragrant and peppery zing. Again with a small bakery like this one should expect the ginger hit to vary from batch to batch contributing to a delightful uniqueness to each and every pack.

Finally we opened up the Chocolate Chip Ginger Biscuits, and as we would expect these were the palest of the three as a over baking would cause the chocolate chips to disperse into the biscuit. However, Bothams have managed to get a very good distribution of the chips in the biscuit which must be tricky given the dynamics of ginger biscuit baking. The ginger has been toned down a little for these and there is a subtle interplay between it and the chocolate flavour.

So if you are looking for that more individual taste or you are looking to buy an online prezzy for a biscuit and cake fan then Bothams could have the solution.

The Botham baking business dates back to 1865 when it was started by Elizabeth Botham, farmers wife and mother of 13. We asked Bothams why the Ginger biscuits are called 'Shah'. Apparently the recipe was brought back from Scotland by the late Neville Botham, father of the present Botham bakers. He brought it back from a camping holiday spent north of the border. Having tried camping in Scotland in 1976 we have nothing but admiration for the late Mr Botham. He must have braved rain, blood sucking midges and funny coloured water to secure the recipe (of course the Scottish themselves have a genome that makes them largely immune to these vagaries). At this point the trail goes a little cold. Perhaps you know some Scottish biscuit history and can enlighten us further.

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Morning Coffee

Monday 21 Jul 2003

Back in the 1970s we used to watch a lot of Kung Fu on the telly. The young apprentice monk had to walk the sheet of rice paper. His slow and deliberate foot steps tore holes and he knew that he had failed his task. Now the lesson was not to substitute rice paper as a for lino, especially in high traffic areas like halls, Buddhist temples and kitchens. In fact I would just stick to those flying saucer sweets with sherbert inside, as the predominant use for rice paper. No, the lesson was to go off and learn the whole being a monk thing from the old fella with the funny eyes, I think. As the Wife just said "What's this got to do with Morning Coffee?".

Well the Morning Coffee, like Kung Fu, first came to my attention during the 1970s. Being raised in a household of keen biscuit eaters with progressive and liberal attitudes towards the baked snacks, it still came as a shock that some people choose to eat such bland biscuits. In fact I remember the first morning coffee I had whilst visiting friends of my mothers for 'Morning Coffee'. Immediately struck by its intricate graphics the Morning Coffee held out the promise of sophistication, of hidden secret depths in order to fulfill its stated mission as a pre-lunch coffee biscuit. Unlike Kung Fu, the Morning Coffee didn't have an associated hit record "Everybody was Morning Coffee eating", however, I was still keen to taste this 'now' biscuit. It was a bitter blow to find that essentially it was a turn coat rich tea. Those intricate pictures of coffee pots and wisps of steam were the only note worthy point to the biscuit. The rewards to be had from nibbling out the coffee pot from the biscuit compared to say a cow-ectomy performed on a malted milk were scant. A simple mental note to avoid the Morning Coffee for the rest of my life appeared to be the answer.

Now, nearly some thirty years later, fate has conspired to confront me with that knobbly rectangle of biscuit under-achievment once again. Macmillan Cancer Relief are running their Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning event this September and our local branch got in touch to see what biscuit I would recommend for such an occasion. Well I explained to the nice Canadian organising lady on the phone, "You'll need some morning coffees then". "Good and what cookies do you recommend?" she replied, having never heard of the 'Morning Coffee' biscuit and assuming I was being evasive and odd and that we had entered one of those strange transatlantic failures in the English language. "Who makes them?" she continued. I admitted I had no idea, as I couldn't think of a branded Morning Coffee, but replied that all the big supermarkets have them.

So here I am staring into a biscuit tin of Morning Coffee reaping what I have sown. Well I couldn't recommend them and not try them again. We grabbed a pack from Tesco's and one from Asda and they look identical. I'm sure past Morning Coffees had pictures of coffee pots, these have resorted to a simple to a cup and saucer image. Maybe its because the coffee pot itself has been relegated to such niches as the hotel breakfast, and certainly isn't used regularly in the domestic sense.

Now last year you may recall I backed myself into a corner which resulted in my taste testing seven types of rich tea biscuit side by side. Some may have been scarred for life with the memory of such a trial. In fact some were. However, I vowed to become a better biscuit reviewer through the experience. And now finally we get to the point, the Morning Coffee actually when compared to most types of Rich Tea is ever so slightly tastier! I was of course shocked to my very core, my whole belief system threating to crumble before me. How could this be? Well ingredient number four is malt extract. This it seems has given the Morning Coffee a very faint malty sweetness, earning a small measure of individuallity other than its pictures of cups and steam.

His Rich Tea lesson learnt, Nicey notes the slight difference in taste and skips over the tricky rice paper of bland biscuit reviewing leaving not a single footmark.

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