Consider the Oreo… As many New Worlders celebrate their independence today, I thought it high time we profiled one of their national biscuits on the Bestiary (for the convenience of speakers of American English I shall be referring to it here as a cookie). It’s a measure of how popular Oreos have become across the pond that you can find them in the wilds of Yorkshire now. Here are four sitting pretty on some old Blue Willow china, no doubt waiting for a glass of milk to accompany them…

IMG_0932I was surprised to discover that the Oreo first appeared in 1912 around the same time as equivalent sandwich styles premiered in Britain (c.f. the Bourbon and Custard Cream). Even today, America’s Oreos are still produced by Nabisco, the successors of the wonderfully named National Biscuit Company (a name which itself belongs to that bygone era when Old and New World biscuits were largely the same thing).

New York, New York and Nabisco (image from Chelsea Market and The Smithsonian)

Intriguingly, this compact and demure little cookie manages to attracts more controversy than the Knights Templar and the more you delve into the question of the Oreo’s spiritual significance the more you’ll find a dazzling, and frankly gnostic, range of exegeses on the market. While it’s not the first time we’ve profiled embossed cookies on the Bestiary, the intricacy and regularity of the Oreo’s design bears is worth commenting on. This excellent article from Edible Geography on the unsung heroes of biscuit embossing and the history of the Oreo is worth some perusal (I had no idea that the current design only dates to 1952, or that the Oreo has a very Greek-sounding rival, the Hydrox, with an even more venerable history).

Photo credit: Olivia Brambill

The nearest thing I can find to a commentary on embossing in the bible comes in St Paul’s statements in Romans about Christians being conformed to the image of Christ and not the world’s pattern but if we’re honest, such advice sits uncomfortably with the Western mindset that freedom is ‘a breakfast food’, as one brilliant New World poet put it. Perhaps it plays too much on our fears that faith means adopting a sort of cookie-cutter saintliness that leaves no room for self-expression. For the New Testament writers, however, being conformed to Christ’s image offers the ultimate freedom from all creation’s ‘bondage to decay’ and the shackles of sin and death that accompany it — what Paul (and many of America’s founding fathers) would have understood as the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Further Delectation

A masterclass on the art of Oreo-eating from Jess and her Dad (but if all this seems very complicated, just experiment with your own inimitable style – whatever that is!)

Give the humble Hydrox some love – or at least a read of its history in the Atlas Obscura.

Don’t have any Oreos in the house to celebrate your independence with? Have a consolatory read of e e cummings’ loveliest medieval-themed poem.

If you’ve landed here straight from the High Middle Ages and find yourself a bit flummoxed by all these bizarre references to a New World, you can catch up with Amerigo Vespucci‘s correspondence on the subject or these more recent Letters from America and newfangled experiments in Netherlandish cartography:


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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