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