This month saw the arrival of a parcel of biscuits from Latvia courtesy of my friend Gareth, whose name will be added to the Fig Roll of Honour in due course. I suspect the Latvians are bigger coffee than tea drinkers but as it was National Tea Day when I first tried these Selga biscuits, I thought it best to put them through their paces with an afternoon brew. Taste-wise, they could be first cousins to the Malted Milk, although they’re slightly thinner and crumblier. Escher might have admired their squareness – I’ve never known any biscuit tesselate so beautifully on a plate.

IMG_0247 (2)I can see why travel is supposed to broaden the mind. It was the squareness of the Selga that first alerted me to the fact that all the biscuits I’ve seen in the UK have been round or oblong or uneven. Not only do square biscuits not exist here it seems, but worryingly for the geometricians whosoever googles ‘square British biscuits’ finds nothing but images of Nice and Custard Creams.

Gareth kindly sent me two different varieties of Selga for comparison. So far I think I prefer the slightly mellower condensed milk to the plain/classic version, but could see myself hoovering up either in large quantities given a fair wind and a good writing day. All of the biscuits he sent me are made by Laima, a chocolate manufacturer that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. (I have two smaller chocolatey-looking specimens to try as well, but as these look like a different species I have reserved them for a separate entry!)

“Laima is also the name of one of ‘God’s’ daughters. The pagan God. But the word for God is the same in Christianity or Latvian paganism,” Gareth told me. Isidore of Seville would have approved of this attention to names. If the Latvian word for God casts light on that culture’s transition to Christianity, the meanings that emerged when I typed ‘Selga’ into the online Latvian-English translators were still more unexpected. As far as I can tell, it’s a Latvian noun that has variously been translated as ‘deep-sea’, ‘seaway’ or ‘offing’ in the sense of casting off into the deep.

It’s hard to imagine Captain Ahab wolfing these sedate little biscuits on the Pequod but the idea of launching out upon the seaway reminded me of early medieval poetry in Old English where the sea is described as the sail-road or the whale-way (or is that too great a semantic leap?). Pending Dan Isidore’s approval, I’m going to take the opening of Psalm 130 for the Selga’s moral sentence. De profundis clamavi (‘Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord’). It’s one of the most moving cries of the Psalter, rendered powerfully here by another great gift from the Baltics: Arvo Pärt.

Further Delectation

The late, great and sadly missed Victoria Wood chats to Dr Who’s Matt Smith about the British obsession with tea and tea-time.

Not sure what to bake for the Elizabethan in your life? Try celebrating 400 years of bardery with this 17th-century biskit cake or this royal biscuit cake in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

My friend Donata sent me this wonderful blog post on cookies modelled to look like the historiated initials in medieval manuscripts. Also square, and much too wonderful to eat!

medieval-alphabet-cookies-3.jpg
Image by the talented chef at Luminarium, Anniina Jokinen.

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

3 thoughts on “Selga Biscuits

  1. I found a fragmentary wrapper from Selga biscuits on the beach at Dingle (near Dunwich) in deepest Suffolk, on 14 December 2018. Comparing it to the packaging of all Selga biscuits on the website, which is currently blue, the one I found was green, so it’s old packaging. Is it possible the wrapper could have floated over the North Sea all the way from Latvia to East Anglia? I’ve found polystyrene Norwegian fish crates washed up on the beach, although I assumed they’d fallen in from somewhere around Lowestoft docks, somewhere up the coast, having been imported there. I regularly find Dutch and French packaging on the beach, and Belgian packaging as well (bilingual French and Dutch). It’s also possible that it could have been blown into the sea (or discarded) from one of the passing tanker ships that goes past that stretch of the coast – the UK’s only Oil Transshipment Area is very close – I’ve heard that big tankers meet up with smaller tankers and transship oil for journeys into the shipping lanes of the shallow Baltic where for reasons of safety you need smaller tankers, so a packet of biscuits in the possession of a Latvian crewman isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. I’m not aware of Selga biscuits being distributed in the UK. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow – an incidence of Selga biscuits living up to their name perhaps? I’ve never seen them for sale on the shelves of any shops in the UK (though there may be a few online stores selling them) so my guess would be the packaging has made a longer journey along with the other wrappers you’ve found. Judging from the languages on their website, Laima export quite a lot of biscuits to Russia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as Latvia and other parts of the world. A pity you didn’t get to sample the biscuits!

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