Today, January 18th …
Today was the birthday in 1818 of George Palmer of Huntley and Palmer’s Biscuits, one of the Victorian era’s most successful and innovative entrepreneurs.
The demand for commercially made biscuits soared in the nineteenth century partly because of the increase in travel, but biscuits are fragile, and broken biscuits are not so attractive, even if breakage does allow the calories to leak out. One of the innovations introduced by Palmer was the biscuit tin, enabling unbroken biscuits to be sent all over the world, his business to boom, and generations of biscuit-tin collectors to be born.
Several sizes of tins were made: ten pound tins fashioned individually from sheets of tinplate, seven pound glass-lidded tins for grocery shops, and small household-size, elaborately decorated tins which soon became collectors items. It is not a hobby to be scoffed at. Christie’s auction house has had sales dedicated to tins made by this single manufacturer, and a “Grandfather Clock” tin made in 1929 sold a few years ago for about $6000 AUD.
The biscuit tins were also the subject of a recent and spectacular example of industrial sabotage by a disgruntled employee. A few years ago, this biscuit-tin artist made some non-standard variations to his lids: he painted two tiny couples in flagrante delico – one human couple and one canine couple – almost hidden in the bushes around the happy garden party scene. Eight thousand went to market before being spotted by a sharp-eyed grocer who reported the pattern variation and caused the tins to be withdrawn. Keep an eye out at the flea markets, because one of them sold in 2004 for almost $1000 AUD!
In appreciation of the entwined couples, I give you a recipe for a favourite old biscuit – jumbals, or jumbles. The word comes from “gemmel” meaning twin, and usually refers to a double intertwined finger-ring. Jumbals were originally pretzel-like biscuits, the pieces of dough knotted or twisted together “into what fashion you please”, as in this recipe from Nott’s Cook’s and Confectioner’s dictionary (1724):
To make Jumbals plain.
Take three pounds of fine Flour, a Pound and half of fresh Butter; rub into the Flour with a Pound and a half of Sugar; put in six Eggs, leaving out three Whites, and six Spoonfuls of Rose-water; make it into a Paste, and make it into what fashion you please, and bake them on Papers or Plates.
Tomorrow: Hanging around on the tree