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Brandt Hobbits kernig

Monday 11 Aug 2003

So its off to Deutschland for this weeks biscuit of the week, for two very good reasons. The first being the small stock of German biscuits in the the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown biscuit bunker, thanks to Tom Winter's fabulous parcel from Hamburg. The second the hilarious German to English translations courtesy of Google. 'Kernig' which I'm sort of assuming is German for 'kernels' is translated to 'main header bits'. Imagine if in the future we all had wearable PCs that translated everything you said into German then back again via Google and then uttered it in a synthetic voice. That could make just buying a packet of Polos and a newspaper as challenging as negotiating the Middle East peace process. And talking of hot places such as the Middle East, Southern England is experiencing its hottest heat wave in recorded history right now, so if I'm rambling a bit blame the heat.

So all that universal translator nonsense in sci-fi shows, you know the one, where people from worlds that have never even met before stand there nattering on about how nice it is to live on their planet, and how they recently had their kitchen redecorated, and how good the local schools are and so on. Rubbish! The French who are our nearest neighbours and from whom large parts of modern English come from have words that have no English translation such as 'Terrior'. What is a universal translator going to do with that! Either it would have to skip those bits, or pass it on untranslated or maybe a take a long sort of stab at it. Either way the conversation would be more 'How long have you had those ____ growing from your head?' / 'How long have you had those gnnnnsshargvvv growing from your head?' / 'How long have you had those things that look like road kill in plastic bags with little flashing lights inside at least from where I'm standing they do, growing out of your head?'. To which the answer is probably 'We have to stand in this special sort of unpleasant smelling mud due to or radically different body chemistry, which is similar but not identical to that purple stuff Windowlene that you can't get any more, but people used to wipe it all over the windows of shops that were closing down'. Yes that would all be quite believable.

So back to the biscuits, well lets just quietly leave to one side the whole Hobbit thing. I'm sure they have their reasons and its not for us to cast judgments on other nations attempts to name biscuits. It must be the heat, of course we should pass judgment on other nations unfortunate biscuit naming. If we don't who else will? Well its got to be a nod to our own great HobNob, and possibly something to do with Tolkien. Either way it has that slightly embarrassing Euro angle that Swedish songsters 'Europe' captured so well in 'The Final Countdown' when they rhymed 'Seen us' with 'Venus'.

Oh yes back to the biscuit. Made in Poland by Bahlsen and if my reading of the French version of the ingredients is correct, mostly oats, wholemeal flour, wheatgerm a bit of oil, sugar, raising agents and flavouring. A little smaller than I would have liked the Hobbit did seem quite familiar rather however is not as sweet as the oat biscuits we have like the HobNob. Unfortunately its the last ingredient that really lets down this little biscuit in my eyes. What could otherwise be a very serviceable euro oat biscuit has a slightly artificial twang of vanilla essence which smothers any legitimate flavours there in. Still there is a glimer of hope here and I suppose one could sort of get by on these if you found yourself in Germany and you had scoffed your supply of proper biscuits.

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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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