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1930s McVitie’s advert

Sweet, wholesome, and amiable, the digestive is nothing if not well-rounded in character. Durable too with its Scottish roots, it’s successfully transitioned from a poster boy of the industrial revolution to tea-time staple. These days you rarely see digestives thrust into the limelight yet in a time of crisis few sights are more reassuring. It’s one of the first things you offer anyone in a state of shock, being right up there with other life essentials like tea, blood and oxygen.

As with most heroes of the bestiary, the digestive is renowned for its medicinal qualities and folk legends abound with tales of sudden miraculous recoveries attributed to its invigorating powers. In medieval tradition, a special place is reserved for St Timothy’s Biscuit. After St Paul advised the younger man to drink a little wine for his stomach trouble, it was only a hop, skip and jump to luxury cheese. This seems to be the explanation for the otherwise puzzling reference in Chaucer’s The Camembert’s Tale: ‘some bisquite take yow, by St Timothee / For shame yt is such cheses should go fre’.

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Of late the free-flow of digestives through these isles has led some to assert that this is the most popular biscuit in our history: a claim that is the less astonishing when you consider the role of the digestive as the natural companion of cheese and chocolate. Like a  faithful friend, this modest soul is never happier than when promoting the excellence of others. If it has any lesson to teach us it’s that humility has its pleasures and one of them may be making opportunities for others to shine.

Further Delectation

Read this charming post on the digestive’s history or watch this digest of Victorian biscuit mania first screened on The Great British Bake Off.

Try these ingenious recipes including passionfruit meringue and other biscuity trifles.

Been redirected here from the fourteenth century? You may wish to pair your cheese and wafers with some spiced Ypocras.

Has a digestive saved your life? Send a message of thanks to McVitie’s as they need cheering up right now.

If you would like to see more entries more regularly and help keep this bestiary free of ads, you are welcome to contribute to the Biscuit Jar

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