The Christmas biscuit tin. What a handy piece of kit. There was not a house in my youth that did not have it’s rattling button box, every car boot sported a basic motor repair kit, and no bathroom was complete without a home-made first aid box to see off the nuclear war that was surely coming, although we had some notion that the blasted heath left by the first missile exchange would be safely survived by the use of elastoplast, iodine and a wee bottle of aspirin.
Make no mistake, the Scottish Christmas biscuit tin could have survived a ten megaton blast. You’re looking at box of hammered steel here, with an image on the front of a majestic nine point stag, perhaps a snowy Highland village or possibly a very young Queen Elizabeth II sidesaddle on a huge horse saluting colour trooping brigades just off camera. You had to be a bit careful who you gave that one to in Glasgow when I was a kid.
And the biscuits! Well, where do we start? The Royal Stewart, the bourbon and the custard cream. Christmas was a time for the dainty, the filled and the sugar frosted biscuit to adorn the good China saucers.
During the rest of the year we made do with good, sturdy working class biscuits, such as the Rich Tea and the digestive, simple, unadorned plain baking with the whiff of factory floors, Sunday schools and temperance gatherings.
We might occasionally go mad and have a custard cream, considered a mark of aspirational, striving young couples like my parents, who were the first to buy their own home and my dad was middle management.
My school in Uddingston was close to the Tunnocks factory, so it was our civic duty to eat caramel logs and tea cakes, but my mum said these were not proper biscuits. They couldn’t be dunked.
Dunking was the hallmark of the solid Scottish biscuit. If it’s structural integrity couldn’t survive immersion in scalding hot dark brown tea with about ten sugars, then of what good was it?
Scotland has a proud and magnificent history of building biscuits you can dunk. It gives me no pleasure to say that this heritage is under threat. Oh, I think we can all guess who the culprit is, looking at you, USA.
The soggy horror show
The Oreo, the ultimate American biscuit, has apparently bitten a chunk out of our biscuit base. I am appalled. Have you tried one?
Like many of you, I was familiar with the name. The Americans seemed to be unable to make a film without mentioning them, and to be honest, when they suddenly appeared on the shelves, I was intrigued, as I imagine you were too.
Scots are adventurous souls, as cemeteries throughout the world will attest.
A mouthful of a digestive will give your teeth a right good challenge. God knows what’s in there, but there are moments when you wonder if they put flooring sweepings in. The Hob Nob, basically a digestive with an upgrade to business class, is fatal in its attraction. Few people can eat only one. The Rich Tea might look modest, but packs a punch of flavour. All of them, tough dunkers.
This American upstart is no contender. One bite and you have a soggy horror clagging up your molars.
Remember that white glue we used to get a school that stuck to your fingers and you could spend an entire afternoon peeling it off? Well, that’s what’s in the middle, I am convinced.
No idea what the brown bits are. Your mouth expects chocolate, but it gets pressed stoor, and that is, believe me, not a good taste.
Oh crumbs, they’re not a patch on custard creams
Don’t be fooled by ithe Oreo’s similarity to fine sandwich biscuits like the bourbon and the mighty custard cream. Not only are they biscuits, they are a useful judge of character. I never quite trust those who bite straight into one. A nibble at the side, perhaps part removal of the top, a surreptitious wee bite of the filing. There are those who separate the biscuits, and that is also acceptable. Oh yes, that is the mark of people who are in control and can delay their gratification.
This is how you make a custard cream last, my friends. We passed those secrets of the cream from generation to generation, like a sacred trust, never to be committed to paper.
Our American cousins have to broadcast instructions about the correct manner of eating this abomination. A small child explains that they should be taken apart then dunked in cold milk.
It’s obvious. That flimsy American nonsense can’t handle the challenge of a grannies cup of tea, served just below the surface temperature of Mercury on a particularly hot day. This is not a biscuit fit for a tin. Shun the incomer. Pass the Rich tea.