So I promised my friend Naomi I’d profile the Malted Milk, but so far I’ve held off because (whisper it) I find it hard to get excited about biscuits like these… This in itself provides an object lesson in human psychology. What is it that draws so many of us to anything resembling chocolate and away from the plainer sorts of biscuit lauded for their lower calories? It takes a special kind of individual or at least a special kind of self-restraint to choose a Malted Milk over a Chocolate Hobnob, and yet there’s no sign of the former disappearing from the supermarket shelves anytime soon. I forget Naomi’s reasons for preferring Malted Milks to any other species of biscuit, but if she has a thing for them there must be something to like about them.

IMG_0160The Malted Milk has a curiously homespun quality for such a mass produced biscuit. Its well-known emboss design of grazing cows resembles a cave painting more than the industrial precision of the Oreo, but for that very reason there’s something charmingly unselfconscious about it. For me such comfortable rusticity is reminiscent of a lost Eden, a place where cows (and sheep!) might safely graze and Malted Milks be consumed in peace and quiet.

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‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ asked the preacher John Ball, the voice of socialism in the 1380s. Chaucer’s Ballad of Gentilesse turns the same question on its head by suggesting true nobility is within the reach of every human prepared to strive for it whatever the condition of their birth. It does feels a little odd seeing Adam, the original bad boy of Genesis, held up for emulation as the Father of Gentilesse in this poem, but Chaucer is here talking about pre-Lapsarian or unfallen man as he might have existed in that legendary time before Paradise was lost, a state of perfect innocence before the Malted Milk became shackled to a blues song…

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Margin illustration from John Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes (BL Harley MS 1766)

Thankfully the story of Adam and Eve doesn’t end with their expulsion from Paradise and medieval theology sets great store by the concept of Felix Culpa or the Fortunate Fault. On this reading, the story of the Fall is one in which humanity’s rebellion is counterbalanced by an even greater exercise in human obedience: Jesus’ trust replacing their mistrust, his self-giving their taking, and so on. Even the teenage Mary’s decision to accept the task of bearing the Messiah (‘Be it unto me according to thy word’) forms a crucial part of this reversal of human fortunes and a particular kindness of God’s to make salvation hinge on a woman’s obedience as well as a man’s. From weal to woe to weal again, and from greater woe to greater weal. As a meta-narrative it’s all so beautifully constructed and what God does on that large canvas for all of us, he loves to replicate in the smaller canvases of our individual lives, turning even our Valleys of Weeping into places of refreshing.

Further Delectation

Read more about the history of Malted Milk with a cup of Horlicks and a Malted Milk to hand…

Did you know that Malted Milks are second cousins to the Malteser? Also light caloried, but with added chocolate. You’re welcome.

Listen to Audrey Assad’s Fortunate Fall album (or pretty much anything she’s written.)

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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