All the bestiaries I’ve read begin with the Lion as the King of the Beasts or, as T. H. White puts it, the Prince of all Animals. If there was a Prince of Biscuits, I’d never heard of it, although it never hurts to make enquiries.
Tell me, kind citizens of Peckham and Camberwell, and all ye strangers who dwell upon the North side of the Thames. Tell me, time-honoured visitors to London and all souls I speak to through an immense dish in the sky. Have you heard of a regal biscuit that is tough, brave, merciful and aloof in equal measure? A true monarch, as it were, among biscuit-kind?
Thus accosted, some people took the opportunity to make a plea for the great worthiness of the biscuits they esteemed most highly. Every hobnob was exalted. Every jammy dodger had its moment in the sun. Some, like the best exam candidates, focused carefully on the terms of the question, debating amongst themselves which biscuit was the toughest, the scarcest or most closely associated with a royal life.
Like the bestiarists past, I was fact-gathering the good old way, racking numerous brains and ovens before I even thought of consulting the net. When I did, I quickly discovered the Prince of Wales biscuit which I’m proud to present to you here on the Feast of St David. Historically, it’s the nearest equivalent to a princely biscuit I can find (with due credit to Ivan Day for his research and very beautiful photo).
Still, if you don’t mind, I’m not going to start with all these lions, plumes and feathers but with a biscuit that is almost the archetype of the species in its simplest form. Before you accuse me of bigging up the rusk, I’ll just say this is a biscuit that knows when to crumble. For some it’s a tea-time staple; for others a modest addition to the savoury end of a meal.
If you can’t guess what it is, I’ll leave you to digest these clues at leisure.
Joseph Bell. A Treatise of Confectionery. (Newcastle: 1817)
‘The Good Old Way‘ (featured in the folk album And We’ll All Have Tea, 2000).
An excellent dragon from BL MS Add. 16577: