Jammie Dodgers

Way back at the beginning of the second lockdown I found myself craving Jammie Dodgers. As luck would have it they were on special at the local supermarket, but it had been so long since I’d bought them I was surprised to find their appearance and branding had undergone a bold cosmetic change. You can still see the old swirl-top pattern I remember in this recent article by Rachel Cooke, which confirms my view that many are turning to comfort biscuits in these trying times. In sympathy with the zeitgeist, the design now resembles a spillage at a jam factory. Still, these ones look very pleased with themselves sat on a plate in my new digs:

The company who make Jammie Dodgers, Burton’s, have been producing them in one form or another since the late 1940s. One — possibly apocryphal — story links them with Roger the Dodger of the long-running Beano comic. When I researched them further however, I found that the same biscuits have been in the news this year for distinctly un-comical reasons and we may find them in even greater demand this festive season if the Delivery Workers Guild goes ahead with its strike. So even comfort biscuits haven’t managed to dodge the shadow of 2020, it seems…

We listen to the evening news with its usual recital of shabbiness and horror, and God if we believe in him at all, seems remote and powerless, writes Frederick Buechner. But there are other times – often the most unexpected, unlikely times – when strong as life itself comes the sense that there is a holiness deeper than [the] shabbiness and horror and at the very heart of darkness a light unutterable.’ The apostle John might have agreed with him: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it, he writes in the prologue to his gospel, written in the glow of the extraordinary life of his friend Jesus of Nazareth.

BL Oriental MS 5024 f. 19r

Light overcoming the darkness is also the message of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which begins this evening with the lighting of the first candle of the Menorah. Another apocryphal story tells how the Jews took back their temple after the Greek King Antiochus IV captured it in around 164 BC, desecrated the holy places, and made every effort to stop them practising their religion. At the re-dedication of the temple they only had enough of the consecrated oil to last for one day but the supplies miraculously stretched for seven until the new oil could be ready for burning. John gives us a glimpse of Jesus celebrating the festival in winter walking in Solomon’s Colonnade, a long pillared walkway not unlike a medieval cloister.

‘What if God became a human and lived with us?’ is the question John sets out to answer and you can read his gospel and the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ life or watch this recent TV adaptation if you want to know more of what happened along the way. I’ll admit I’m more than a little biscuit-obsessed these days, but to me the heart in the centre of the Dodger’s new splat speaks of the wonder of the Incarnation: of God looking on us with compassion in all our pain and confusion, horror and shabbiness, and sending himself as a human right into the heart of the mess.

BL Harley MS 4382 f.139

Further Delectation

Have a read of the Beano’s biscuit jokes (straight out of the Christmas Cracker school of humour) or have a go at making your own festive Jammie Dodgers.

Help support essential workers this Christmas. Let delivery companies like DHL know you’d like them to look after their drivers better. Ask your MP to support a pay-rise for NHS staff. Or consider whether you could help those on the frontlines of the food poverty crisis.

Prepare for Christmas with this medieval homily and meditation from the Clerk of Oxford’s modern counterpart. Listen to a beautiful twenty-first-century rendition of one of the oldest, loveliest hymns on the incarnation:

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.


These three-cornered Hamantaschen cookies are eaten every year around this time for Purim: a festival celebrating the deliverance of the Jews in the ancient Persian empire from the plot of their enemy Haman, a high-ranking official at the palace in Susa who succeeded in persuading King Ahasuerus to authorise their massacre on a certain day by royal decree. Popularly known as Haman’s pockets (or sometimes his ears or hat) these sweet pastry biscuits developed centuries later as a treat associated with the festival. You could say the biscuits themselves are a nice illustration of the venahafoch hu motif in the idea of the villain out to make mincemeat of others symbolically made mincemeat himself. If not quite medieval in origin, they probably date from 1500s Italy (as Oznei Haman) or the 1700s when the name Hamantaschen (‘Haman’s Pockets’) began to be used in Jewish communities in Germany and Eastern Europe.

IMG_0354These biscuits are made from a dairy-free pastry recipe infused with a hint of orange and filled with light spoonfuls of apricot and blackcurrant jam. It took me a while to get the hang of the folding process but the results aren’t bad for a first attempt. If you haven’t tried them before it’s fair to say they look and taste a lot like novelty jam tarts, but with a sweeter flavour.

For the moral we must look more deeply at the story that inspired them: a story not first and foremost about Haman and his wickedness but the bravery of a young Jewish girl called Esther. Essentially as a result of winning the fifth century equivalent of a national beauty pageant, Esther is elevated to the rank of queen and proves herself to have courage and wisdom as well as beauty in pitting her prayers and wits against Haman’s. In the end she manages to change the story by interceding for her people, a risky thing to do in an age when even approaching a king without permission could cost you your life. One of the tensest moments in the book occurs when she walks into the inner courtyard, a lone figure in her royal robes, hoping against hope that the king will receive her.

6a017ee66ba427970d01b7c8dee014970b.pngThe words of Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, are often quoted as a crucial part this story, intended as they are to prompt her into speaking out despite the danger: ‘if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?‘ There are wonderful stories in the Jewish Bible of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies fighting for his people, but here their deliverance is brought about in a very different way through the workings of human history and human choices.

It is a sad and shameful fact that the majority of the early Church fathers from Iraneus to Augustine were deeply anti-semitic, a legacy of medieval Christianity which must be recognised and repented of today if we are really to honour the roots of our faith going forward. And even in our own age it has become depressingly clear that religious and ethnic persecution of all kinds is still ongoing and in some cases increasing. We may all have our own choices to make in such a time as this. Let us pray we make them well and wisely.

Further Reflection

Have a go at making your own Hamantaschen with pastry recipes (and a helpful tutorial) from Tori Avey.

It’s traditional to read the Book of Esther again when celebrating Purim. Here’s a lovely joyous take on her story from the Maccabeats and a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of it by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.