The Malted Milk

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… 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 perhaps 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.

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The first thing to note about this biscuit is its curiously homespun quality: its well-known emboss design of grazing cows resembles a cave painting more than the industrial precision of the Oreo and for that very reason there’s something charmingly unselfconscious about it. I find such comfortable rusticity reminiscent of a lost Eden, a place where cows (or sheep?) may safely graze and biscuits be consumed in peace and quiet.

‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ asked 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 a spiritual condition within the reach of each of us. 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. 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 the reversal of human fortunes through the sacrifice of Jesus 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 on the smaller canvases of our individual lives, turning even our Valleys of Weeping into places of refreshing.

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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.)

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Lemon Moon Biscuits

It was my birthday this month, which was an excellent excuse to buy some nicer-than-usual biscuits for the office. As luck would have it there’s a Konditor and Cook just down the road from where I work so I nipped in on Monday to appraise their biscuit range…

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Konditor’s official mission is to spread joy through cake and happily that mission extends to several species of biscuit. These Lemon Moon creations went down well in the office, and their surprising density and combination of meringue, lemon and almond flavours gave them the taste of an extra citrusy Christmas cake. For my part I’d never come across a biscuit so densely packed with fruit or redolent of marzipan (its moon shape was also distinctive although not quite as slender as a real crescent moon, but who wouldn’t err on the side of less bite and more biscuit?)

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You don’t have to look too far for a mention of the moon in the bible. In the dramatic opening chapter of Genesis, Elohim creates it as one of two lights to separate the day and night. While the sun rules over the day-time, the moon is the lesser light appointed to rule over the night, and both are set in their place as a marker of times and seasons. In medieval cosmology the moon’s sphere sits directly above the Earth and everything ‘sublunary’ is subject to change and corruption. ‘We that dwelle under the Mone / Stand in this world upon a weer [a doubt]’ wrote Chaucer’s friend John Gower.

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Such stoic resignation to an earthly life of change and instability may provide a handy filter on current affairs, but it also reveals an interesting disconnect between medieval Christian and older Hebrew culture. To the medieval poets and their inheritors, the moon symbolised fickleness (‘Don’t swear by the moon!’ begs Juliet in Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers) but in the Book of Psalms you could do a lot worse than swearing by Earth’s constant satellite. Here the moon is established as a sign of God’s unfailing love and covenant with his people, ‘his faithful witness in the sky’. 

Perhaps the wheel has come full circle in modern climatology which rather emphasises the moon’s stabilising influence on the Earth than the other way around, but whether he understood that or not, it was contemplating the wonder of it all which led David to cry:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them? 

A good sentence for a biscuit created to look (a little bit) like the moon on a starry night…

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Further Delectation

More on medieval cosmology from the British Library’s blog and in this fascinating post  from the Getty Museum. (The pictures above are from a 9th century copy of Pliny’s Natural History BL Harley MS 647 and Christine de Pizan’s lovely Book of the Queen BL Harley MS 4431).

Another recipe for Moon Biscuits popular in India (these do look a lot more like a real crescent!)

Shooting Stars from troubadour Will Cookson wandering beyond the Moon’s far side, for when your day’s been too sublunary by half:

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