What’s your favourite biscuit? You may recall that this question got Gordon Brown into a bit of trouble when he was UK prime minister. I couldn’t remember the details and have looked them up so that you don’t have to. It was late 2009 and the question was one of many asked on mumsnet, the website and forum aimed primarily at mothers with young children. Brown was being interviewed by the site, and his failure to give a straight answer drew criticism from most of the UK press (well, no surprise there). His belated answer (“after 24 hours of dithering” according to the Daily Mail) was “anything with chocolate on it”. When prime-minister-in-waiting David Cameron was interviewed subsequently on mumsnet he had his answer ready: “oatcakes with butter and cheese”, though I would hesitate to describe oatcakes as biscuits.
All of this took place over 10 years ago, and was referred to, as you might expect, as “Biscuit Gate”. If you want to search for it, make sure that you don’t type “Biscuit Game” instead. That’s something completely different, practised at all-male boarding schools, described in some detail in a novel by Stephen Fry that I read before I ever used a search engine.
My mind has been on biscuits lately because I have been filling in some gaps in my children’s culinary education. They are both teenagers. I realized during the summer that they had never tried a McVitie’s Ginger Nut so I reintroduced them to the concept of dunking biscuits in tea (hadn’t done that for a while) and comparing the taste and texture before and after.
In recent weeks our selection of biscuits has grown from nothing (apart from “Kimberley Elite”, chocolate covered Kimberley biscuits, imported from Ireland) to around a dozen different types. These include some of my childhood favourites (malted milk, Nice), others that I favoured in my 20s (fruit shortcake, Hobnobs) and some that I can’t stand (bourbon, custard cream).
Until last month my son had never had a plain Digestive, as far as we could recall. We did go through a phase a few years ago of always having milk chocolate Digestives in the house but not the chocolate-free variety. Now he has experienced both.
Back in 2015 I also introduced the children to Garibaldi biscuits. We had travelled through France and Italy and spent time in many piazzas dedicated to the 19th century general Giuseppi Garibaldi, hero of Italian Unification. The children learnt about him before they sampled the biscuits that share his name. I note that Garibaldi’s are much harder to come by than all the brands mentioned so far. M&S, Waitrose and our local corner shops do not stock them but between them they stock everything listed above. Our local Sainsbury’s definitely had them back in 2015. Next time I’m there I’ll stock up, and check whether less popular brands from my childhood (like Marie and Lincoln) are still available.
In the meantime, I am happy to report that my own favourites are Malted Milk, Ginger Nuts and Hobnobs. The nation’s most popular biscuits, according to a 2015 survey which featured in a question on ITV quiz show “Tenable” in 2017 are as follows:
Chocolate Digestive / Chocolate Hobnob / Custard Cream / Shortbread / Jaffa Cake / Chocolate Chip Cookie / Plain Digestive / Ginger Nut / Chocolate Bourbon / Chocolate Finger
You will note that there is no mention of “oatcakes with butter and cheese”.