Food and Drink, History

The Land of Lost Biscuits

One of very few clever little services I’ve signed up for on the Internet dished up for me this morning the fact that today, May 6, 2021, is the 161st anniversary of the day that Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi set sail, together with a small army of his Redshirts, from Genoa towards Sicily, as part of a military campaign that ended with the annexation of same, and the eventual unification of several disparate entities into the unified Kingdom of Italy the following year.

But that wasn’t the first thought that crossed my mind when I saw his name.  No!  And in spite of the military association, not by a long shot!

I thought of biscuits. “Garibaldi biscuits,” to be precise.  A confection named after the gentleman himself, apparently in honor of several visits he’d made to the UK a few years before, and which was the brainchild of London biscuit company, Peek Freans (now described as a “former biscuit making company” that–who couldn’t have predicted this–is part of a “global conglomerate” which no longer markets to its country of origin.  Sigh.)

Anyhoo, Garibaldi biscuits, a much beloved childhood snack, were composed of currants squashed and sandwiched between two thin layers of rich, sweet, pastry, covered with an egg wash, and sprinkled with a little sugar.  To be really authentic, they had to be in rectangles, rolled out five biscuits to a strip, each strip with slightly fluted edges.  Little hands could break them apart into individual biscuits and stuff them into their accompanying mouths.  To the small me, they were only slightly less delectable than some of my other childhood treats.  I adored them, especially when served up with a half-pint bottle of non-homogenized, full-cream milk in which the cream had obligingly risen to the top.

But we never called them Garibaldi biscuits.  In fact, it was only years later that I discovered that was actually the name on the packet (by which time, several other biscuit manufacturers were making them too).

In honor of the squashed currants, and with the certain ghoulish glee that young children sometimes bring to bear on the most innocent of matters, we, and millions of others, called them “dead-fly biscuits,” a palpable and privileged aggression against the defenseless musca domesticus, and probably something we’d be cancelled for today.

Is there a favorite food in your life that you call a name other than its own?

PS: They’re not completely lost.  Pale imitations of the original can still be purchased on Amazon, but they’re not nearly as good as the ones that live in the misty reaches of my head.  I’ve tried several recipes, but none of them are quite right either.  It’s a work in progress.

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