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Sunday, 7 October 2012


The word “biscuit” comes from "bis coctus," twice baked. Originally developed as ships’ rations for Roman sailors, these biscuits were called "panis nauticus" or nautical bread. The dough of seasoned wheat flour and water was baked in moulds twice or even more times for long voyages. They were very crunchy, indeed the sailors were recommended in order to avoid losing their teeth they should soak the biscuits in soup or water.

In Commonwealth English a biscuit is a small baked product that would be called either a "cookie" or a "cracker" in the United States. In America, a "biscuit" is a savory quick bread, somewhat similar to a scone, though sugar is not used in the dough.

A Bath Oliver is a large, hard, pale unsweetened biscuit, invented by Dr William Oliver (1695–1764), a leading physician in Bath who believed that his patients were overeating and needed something nutritious but not rich. On his deathbed he gave his coachman the recipe, £100 and ten sacks of the finest flour. The coachman made a fortune and the biscuit remains to this day the favourite of a few to accompany cheese.

A typical seaman’s evening meal at the turn of the 19th century meant ships biscuits with butter or cheese. The biscuits were usually infested with weevils, but hungry sailors would bang them on a table to knock out any inside.

Thomas Huntley who run a confectionery business in Reading, England and George Palmer a mechanically minded Somerset miller joined forces in 1841 to manufacture biscuits as Huntley & Palmers. Cousins by marriage and committed Quakers within 30 years they were producing over 100 different types of biscuit.

George Palmer built the first continuously running machine for biscuit manufacture but unfortunately it exploded, nearly killing him and several other employees.

Digestive biscuits were invented in 1892 by Mcvitie’s employee Alexander Grant. Mcvitie’s Digestives got its name because the baking soda in them is thought to be good for indigestion.  When they were first manufactured in the late 19th century, they are mixed by hand, by hundreds of women using huge mixing bowls.

The chocolate flavored bourbon biscuits have no connection with the French royal house of Bourbon apart from bearing its name, which is first recorded for them in the 1930s.

A biscuit taken from the Titanic before her ill-fated maiden voyage (see below) fetched £3,525 at an auction in London on September 25, 2001. It was taken from a party held on the Titanic in Southampton by Captain Morris Harvey-Clarke, before it sailed in April 1912. The biscuit, which has a diameter of 6.2 centimetres, was described in the catalog as “in almost perfect condition with signs of moulding”.

The chocolate on a Hobnob is on the bottom of the biscuit, not the top.

Sources History WorldFood For Thought by Ed Pearce

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