P-p-p-p preserves

It’s the start of preserving time and we’re so goddam wholesome in this house that we’ve already made mint syrup and bean chutney. My first attempt at chutney a few years ago was considerably overcooked, but, while unpalatable, continues to provide the appropriate lubrication for the moving parts of the tractor’s mower.

The mint syrup, however, is an unqualified success. But then it’s from Pam Corbin’s Preserves book. I defy anyone to find a rival for it…every recipe I’ve tried is not only delicious it’s also fun to actually do.

Fruit leathers are next on the list. If you’re not familiar with fruit leathers, they’re made from sweetened fruit puree that once cooked is poured, baked into (usually) rectangular, thin strips. They look a little like they may have been peeled from the flesh of a recovering burns victim. Tastier though, I’m sure.

This is exactly the sort of snack I’m hoping to encourage myself and the family to eat more of – dragging the late summer and autumn harvest into the colder months. They’re a great energy boost, obviously much healthier than the usual biscuits. My mind has strayed onto biscuits in the last day or two, partly due to the last post on this blog, and even more so thanks to James A-S comments underneath the post itself.

Snacks used to be different. For a start the Venn diagram of snacks and biscuits looked pretty much like a single circle. Obviously I’m excluding the wonderful world of sweets, which exists more as a form of entertainment than sustenance if you ask me. The trouble with biscuits is that once they enter the conversation you can end up anywhere. I should stop myself writing, but I’m compelled to continue. You may start off pondering what makes something a biscuit and what makes something a cake (at the risk of starting a fire I can’t put out, I’d unhumbly suggest a cake goes hard when it’s stale, a biscuit goes soft), and then you stray into old-school snackery…what was the best biscuit? Do fancy biscuits (and by fancy biscuits I mean those wrapped individually) have to be considered in a separate category? And how many standard biscuits equal a fancy biscuit? Obviously this has no recourse to nutritive benefit nor volume but it’s own exchange rate that is somehow immediately understood. Three Digestives for a Breakaway always seemed about fair, although obviously enough that’d be two half coated Digestives to a Breakaway. If it was dark chocolate providing the half-coating then negotiations were often required. In the same way two Rothmans were required to part company with a single Marlboro. If only the rest of life was based on such immediately and inarguable understandings.

Trios and Uniteds were the pinnacle for me, although the Club deserves a mention – surely everyone’s favourite for a while. Which of course opens up ‘hilarious’ possibilities for club sandwich jokes.

Almost tragically my dad was a fan of the Blue Riband…a biscuit so unworthy of the name ‘biscuit’ as to be an insult to it. Built of two main ingredients (poor chocolate and coarse wafer) the Blue Riband was often the only thing that would pass for a snack that sat lonely in the cupboard at half term. You’d need getting on for a flaskful of tea to get the wretched thing to form a bolus, never mind actually get it to pass through the alimentary canal. It’s only a mild exaggeration to say that when a packet of Penguins magically found it’s way into the house it felt as if it was someone’s birthday.

There was the occasional packet of Bourbons. The fabulous thing about Bourbons was that as well as providing diversion from the Blue Riband it provided a little sport. Could any of us eat the two outer planks of biscuit leaving the inner chocolate cream intact? The answer was always the same: only my mum. Perhaps she had the witch-cold hands required to hold but not melt the cream. But the challenge was always taken by the rest of us. It was certainly worthy of inclusion in Indoor League, that finest of mid70s lunchtime entertainment, with a theme tune to rival many. This, my friends, was how we used to spend time in the days before the internet.

I digress.

My aim in all this preserving is not only to get every penny’s worth out of the £8.99 I would have spent on the book if Pam hadn’t given me a copy, but also to try to make sure we’ve got plenty of delicious snacks through the winter…to keep away the specter of the Blue Riband. I want my daughter to grow up without the torture of having to scrabble around in the cupboards for a terrible morsel that answers to the name ‘snack’ only to find something that includes wafer.

So, off to pick blackberries, rosehips, apples, raspberries, autumn olives, haws and maybe some sloes for a liquid snack of my own.

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  • WHAT… no mention of the Tunnocks Caramel, in fairness nothing more than a Blue Riband with an alternate layer of sludge and an ability to taste like it was well past it's sell by date.

  • As a youngster I had the misfortune of finding a toe-nail clipping in a Tunnocks Caramel. The greater misfortune was when a gentlemen from Tunnocks took a trip (so he said) from Tunnocks HQ in Glasgow to the far reaches of Southern England to deliver a complimentary box of the damn things.

  • Oh Mark, Mark, Mark….what have you started? especially during the week when my computer is in hospital and I cannot blog. I have so much to say about biscuits.
    The Blue Riband was really very nasty. In fact, the whole principle of wafer is pretty horrible).Except where the filling to wafer ratio is weighted heavily in favour of the former.
    On the subject of the Tunnocks bar (and it's more glamorous cousin the Tunnocks Tea Cake). I rather like them (they are in the biscuit tin) but they always taste better in Scotland: preferably during a light drizzle.
    They are one of the great contributions to world cuisine along with Irn-Bru, mutton pies and Tennants lager**.

    ** There was a time when Tennants lager cans were decorated with pictures of healthy looking girls. Nothing smutty – they were all fully clothed and very girl next door.

  • The Tunnocks Caramel Wafer is a prince among biscuits. i am astonished to find that there are people out there who dont like them, although the toenail story is pretty alarming (mind you my husband once found an eyelid – complete with long cow lashes – in a tin of corned beef).
    James omits to mention that finest of Scottish inventions, the macaroni cheese pie, in its own pastry case (true Scots would then place said pie between two slices of bread, for maximum carbohydrate consumption in one quick snack).

  • Im starting to wonder if caramel (and perhaps its cousins fudge and toffee) arent the antidote to wafer. The cheese to the cracker as it were. Maybe wafer has a role in helping us define what's biscuit and what's sweets in that no mans land where Caramel Wafer might otherwise be a mite hard to separate from a finger of Fudge in the complex world of classification and nomenclature. Im starting to see a family tree of Linnaeus-like significance…Q1 Does it go soft when it's stale? If 'yes' it's a biscuit, go to Q2, if 'no' it's not a biscuit go to Q3. Q2 Does it have wafer? If 'yes', go to Q4. Q4 Does it have caramel? If 'no', burn it etc

    We're on to something….

  • If I recall, there was a recent court case the basis of which was how to distinguish a cake from a biscuit. This may be seemingly unimportant until the VAT man becomes involved. A cake is not vatable, a biscuit is. The UK treasury argued that an M&S teacake was a biscuit. M&S argued to the contrary and won the day. If only they had the sense to use the Diacono patented "aged soggyness index" all would no doubt have been a lot simpler.

  • My gosh this is hilarious! Trio was my favourite biscuit bar at school. Think along the lines of Club, but with far snappier advertising. The animation featured a girl singing 'I want a Trio and I want one NOW!' A generation of parents must be permanently scarred…

  • Lia – what a fine website..excellent taxonomy, and a fine classification system. Obviously there are some details I'd take issue with (an individually wrapped biscuit counts as 'higher' spec surely) but I think that's the nature of biscuit/cake debate. Ask anyone their favourite Van Morrisson album and similarly rules/conventions start to get introduced….are we allowed to ignore the pisspoor pub-blues track that usually gets shoehorned in around track 6, can I have the first side of XXX and the second side of YYY to create a new 'best' album etc. It's a mine field, but as I said earlier, I think comrades, that we're getting somewhere. Wagon wheels….now I wonder, given the inclusion of marshmallow, where they stand VAT wise…..

  • Maisie/Si – thank you for brigning an air of sense and legality to proceedings…BUT we the people must be the ones who decide what makes a cake a cake, when a biscuit might be enjoyed for it's luxury status not those faceless clowns of officialdom.

    And like you Rob, I look back on the wonder of the Trio with nothing less than misty eyes

  • This is just not fair….
    Look.
    The boundaries are being purposely muddied here: I thought this was a debate about biscuits.
    Keep cakes out of it for the moment.
    Cake is cake and biscuit is biscuit and any melding of the the two is an abomination in the face of the Lord.
    Except where the Jaffa Cake is concerned.
    Or the aforementioned Tunnocks Tea Cake.
    Or various other exceptions.
    About which I cannot write as I have no Blog.
    I might have to go and start another….
    I cannot fully express myself in a comment box.
    It's like making an elephant sit on a shooting stick.
    Huh….

  • Ok, you've all more or less lost me with this biscuit talk, although I must say I can't continue without a mention of the Gold Bar – classic biscuit of the Thatcherite 80s.

    Mark, I blame you for making me desire yet another recipe book to add to my groaning shelves. But a recipe for mint syrup, yes, that I must have …

  • and to think i had no thought of mentioning biscuits when i started typing away on this post….

    Pam's book is a classic, easily the second best RC Handbook…

  • And come along James AS – stop hurumphing about biscuits when its clearly your blog being down that's got your goat. I'd like to appeal to your design skills to see if you'd be able to come up with a classic blueprint description for a biscuit, a cake and a chocolate bar but as near to the boundaries where one becomes another as you can. Think of this as a measure of your manhood.

  • The definition is definitely that cakes go hard and biscuits go soft when they are past their sell by date. I was discussing it with my barrister brother who cited the high court case whilst I cited Norris on Coronation Street – we were in accord which only goes to prove why The Street is the only soap worth watching (The Archers, of course, being in the audio category).

    Oh, and I loooove Tunnocks – with or without toenails.

  • Okay.
    These are the definitive, simple, undebatable facts.

    It is easily possible to eat an entire chocolate bar (assuming standard size, not gargantuan airport Toblerones).

    One needs to be quite hungry to eat an entire packet of biscuits (except Jaffa Cakes – see footnote 1)

    It is well nigh impossible to eat a whole cake (except mini rolls – see footnote 2)

    I think that will stand up in court. (See Footnote 3). From henceforth I would like this to be called the Blackpitts Theorem.(see Footnote 4)

    Footnote 1: Jaffa Cakes need to be eaten by the packetful as they do not last until the next day. In this they are like oysters but without the aphrodisiac qualities.

    Footnote 2: Obviously miniature versions of anything (mini rolls, cupcakes or individually wrapped slices of cherry fruit cake) do not count.

    Footnote 3: Very greedy/hungry people are excluded from this convention as they cannot be trusted to share with everybody else.

    Footnote 4: It is really undignified for a whole theorem to be first aired in a comments box. I bet Fermatt had a whole blog to do his thing.

  • By the way. I would like the Jury to be aware that Mr 'If You Like A Lot Of Chocolate On Your Biscuit Join Our Club' Diacono started the biscuit thing.
    Not I.
    I was an innocent bystander swept away by the moment.
    Have you seen Captain Blood? I am like the Errol Flynn character just going about his business, curing people until whisked off and sentenced to hard labour in the Carribean (except without intermittent snogging with Olivia de Havilland)

  • *Wafts away the smell of burning martyr*

    Excellent theorem …and one which holds water on first examination. Two points spring immediately to mind – I'm a touch affronted that you feel the Otter Farm comments section an inadequate vehicle for your work given that a number of others have given of their postulations generously, and secondly I'd beg to differ with the latter half of Footnote 1, although admittedly a McVities Boaster opens the 'Feel Like Lovin Valve' a touch more reliably.