Friday, January 11, 2008


A recent, if somewhat unreliable, poll of Dublin 15 residents threw up the rather startling fact that most people were less concerned by transport and education issues than the parlous state of the Rich Tea biscuit. In fact the recent “Prime Time” special on the subject, using actors in graphic reconstructions, only served to underline just how bad the situation has become.
Years ago, the odd one or two biscuits at the end of a packet were occasionally found to be broken. The old joke was that manufacturers should therefore leave the end one out. No, not very funny but neither were a lot of comedians back then.
A much better joke is - who sang lead vocals on “You’re once, twice, three times a biscuit?” Lionel Rich Tea.
To get back to the main point of this mini rant, however, for the past year or so, it is quite rare to get even one unbroken biscuit in a packet, as most Rich Tea aficionados will attest. In fact the common practice has become to end up with 600 pieces all the size of an old sixpence – little bigger than crumbs.
There is of course a finger Rich Tea biscuit but these are rarer and don’t have quite such a malty taste. For the purposes of this discussion the Rich Tea is circular, designed to fit precisely into the average mug, unlike the much sweeter digestive which you can only dip an end in before turning it round to fit in the mug.
The Rich Tea has always been my favourite biscuit. Of course, there are others like Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes which are much tastier but they are more expensive and we’re only allowed to have them on special occasions like Christmas and St. Swithin’s Day. The RT, as it is affectionately known, is only 31c in Dunnes for 300g – by far the best value of all the appetising bickies in that aisle.
Naturally we buy others from time to time. Ginger nuts are great for dunking and you can only eat about two or three at a time. Bourbons and custard creams (the biscuit equivalent of ‘ebony and ivory’ living in perfect harmony) are also good value. I like Malted Milk too, mainly because of the fine bovine artwork involved, but find the Mariettas a bit bland.
So we always buy RT, though we always have to have a packet of chocolate digestives at the ready in case of visitors. Visitors would evidently be very offended to be offered a Rich Tea and it is not the biscuit of choice in social circles, though it is rumoured that the Duke of Edinburgh keeps a packet or two in the shed at Balmoral. The Rich Tea is rich in name only and should really be called a “Poor Tea,” due to its social standing.
The RT is a “base” biscuit, which doesn’t mean it has low moral values but, together with Digestives and Nice are one of the primary colours of the biscuit world. It has guided many a recuperating child back to health and, together with toast, is one of the few foodstuffs recommended by the World Health Organisation to be eaten after a stomach upset.
Peter Kay derides the Rich Tea mercilessly for its lack of dunkability but generations of Irish people have had years of pleasure dipping them in and out a “nice cup of tea.” There is an art to this of course. One dip, hold for about a half a second and retrieve. Eat immediately. If you don’t leave it in for long enough, the inside is still crunchy. If you leave it in too long it ends up as a soggy mass at the bottom of your cup and is actually quite tasty to scoop out with a teaspoon. If you don’t eat immediately, it slowly bends over on itself before dropping with a giggle into your lap.
As I mentioned though about a year ago, something happened in the manufacture of what Terry Wogan calls “The Lord of All Biscuits.” Perhaps they decided to cut down on the glue that holds the mixture together. Perhaps the man who carves the letters “Rich Tea” on each biscuit started going a bit heavy handed on the chisel. Whatever the reason, these biscuits now end up in the biscuit tub in thousands of small pieces and, despite the opinions of a certain person not a million miles away, this is not down to the way that I open the packet.
I am fully aware that there is a blue strip that you’re supposed to pull to release the wrapper but everybody knows you use the carving knife and slice through the diameter two biscuits from the top. Even if the first one seems intact, you only have to look at it sideways and it goes to pieces. It would have been no good if it had fallen into the hands of the Gestapo as it would have been broken before they even turned on the spotlight.
Perhaps, my wife goes on to suggest, it is that particular brand. Not so. I tried another brand (who shall be nameless but who bear a Scottish name that rhymes with ‘pity’) and the very same thing happened. This is not an isolated case – this is a Rich Tea pandemic which is threatening the enjoyment of the tea-dunking public on this island and as far as I can see, the Government are showing little enthusiasm in resolving the situation. Sadly there is no election coming up in the foreseeable future, so we have little leverage with the politicians at this moment in time, but in four years time I expect they’ll all be clamouring to condemn Biscuitgate, as I expect it will come to be known.
I knew a man once who used to spread butter on the backs of two Rich Teas and then stick them together like a Custard Cream. In fact it formed part of his thesis at UCD. Obviously he can’t do that now unless he has plenty of time to spare trying to reconstruct the biscuits from the myriad of pieces, like archaeologists trying to piece together a Grecian urn. His fun is gone and it is only a small crumb of comfort to him that he has been forced to take up the social art of dunking, though with pieces the size of your fingernail.

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