Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Garibaldi and Biscuits

For several years now, I have intended, on July 4, to invite you to celebrate with me the birthday (in 1807) of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian leader who played a significant role in the unification of Italy. His birthday is regularly eclipsed by some other pesky Fourth of July celebration, however, and Garibaldi gets forgotten.

Today, I intend to honor his birthday a little belatedly. There is nothing political in my motivation, I assure you, but it is a marvelous excuse to celebrate the biscuits named for him, which were a favourite in my childhood. I have no idea how ‘Garibaldi Biscuits’ came to be so named. As a child, we know them as ‘squashed fly biscuits.’

Garibaldi biscuits are made according to a common theme of enclosing currants or other dried fruit in pastry – a time-honoured way to use up scraps left over from making pies or tarts. In 1861, so the story goes, the English biscuit company Peek Freans released the commercial biscuit and named it after the popular Italian folk hero, who was also quite popular in the North of England (I am not sure about the South, which has always felt itself to be a bit more upper class.) My favourite version of the creation myth is that Guiseppe 'invented' his biscuit when he accidentally sat on an Eccles Cake - which is a very plump version of the same idea.

Should you wish to make your own, here is a recipe from an Australian source, of all things (perhaps an expatriate Pom couldn’t get the commercial variety in the 1940’s, and was forced to attempt them at home?

Garibaldi Biscuits
Take four oz. of self-raising flour, one oz. of margarine or butter, one oz. cf sugar one oz. of chopped sultanas, or raisins a pinch of salt and milk to mix. Chop up the sultanas or stoned raisins. Sieve the flour and salt into a basin. Rub in the margarine or butter and add the sugar. Mix to a very stiff paste, using as little milk as possible. It is better to do the mixing with the hand, and knead the ingredients together. By this way it is much easier to keep the mixture firm, and net too wet. Roll out on to a floured board to about an eighth of an inch in thickness. Cut the paste in half, and on one half spread over the chopped sultanas. Then place the other half of the paste on top and again roll out to an eighth of an inch in thickness. With a sharp knife cut into fingers, or use a pastry cutter to make circles. Place on a well-greased baking sheet and bake in a moderately hot oven for 15 minutes.
Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld.) January 18, 1946.

I have even less idea about the origin of the sauce which also bears his name:

Garibaldi Sauce.
Prepare a Génoise sauce* made with meat or fish basis, flavor it with a suspicion of pounded garlic and curry powder, finely chopped capers, and anchovy essence or paste to which a little chili vinegar should be added, just enough to flavor. Careful blending of the above named flavoring ingredients is essential when making this sauce.
*Génoise Sauce: Melt an ounce of butter in a stewpan, and fry in it a sliced onion, a shallot, half a clove of garlic and a small bouquet garni, add a glass of Burgundy, and let simmer until the onions are done, then add a pint of Espagnole sauce, and let simmer gently for ten minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or tammy, add a pinch of mignonette pepper, and a teaspoonful of anchovy essence, and use as directed.

The Book of Sauces, (Chicago, c1915) by Charles Herman Senn.


Emma Cooper said...

They were also known as 'Squashed Fly Biscuits' in our house ;)

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Emma, where are you from?

Anonymous said...

We called them squashed fly biscuits too. Our dough was quite soft and filled with squishy sultanas. I'm from Brisbane, QLD in Australia