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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Gingernuts (Μπισκόττα Αγγλίας με τζίντζερ )

"...Griffins gingernuts are so spi-ceey,
made from - old English reci-pee,
with the good good taste of Griffins fame
- look for Griffins gingernuts by name!"

Some people will nostalgically remember this commercial jingle for gingernuts, until some others deemed it as blatantly racist, because it showed a man monkeying around tall trees reminiscent of the Carribean, while he was beating his hands on drums and singing that jingle in a clearly Jamaican accent, despite the fact that Jamaicans were not a well-known race amongst New Zealanders, except possibly to the post-war British immigrants. I clearly remember thinking "nuts" every time I saw it on TV. Possibly I remember it more than others because I can't walk into a supermarket and buy some gingernut biscuits, whether they are Griffins or any other brand. Gingernuts were my all-time favorite biscuit. Dark brown, hard, soft when dunked in tea, crispy when dry, and very spicy. I had seen them in the dairy (NZ English for neighbourhood grocery) where we bought milk, bread and anything else that we didn't buy from the Italian brothers in their store next door to the dairy. At manual training in primary school, next door to the old St Patrick's boys college near the former site of the Museum of Wellington, one of our cookery lessons involved learning to make gingernuts (among other New Zealand treats such as scones, rock cakes and ginger gems). That was when I realised that that was in fact what my friends' mothers were making in their kitchens - afghans and banana cakes, not kourambiedes and melomakarona. I was living a non-Kiwi life in a Kiwi world.





















I have always had a healthy interest in other people's food. Growing up in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand - the land of the long white cloud), I always had a secret love of all things English, even though I knew I was a Greek girl. Here I am now, living in Greece; maybe I just got the mother countries mixed up. I never really started to watch cookery shows until I discovered Delia Smith, a chef so popular in the United Kingdom that people refer to her recipes as delias: "What are you cooking?" "I'm doing a delia". What I liked about her shows was that she always gave precise instructions for her recipes, and was full of caveats that always started with the word 'Don't", or contained the word "should". She made traditional English recipes which I had heard of, would eat at restaurants, but would never eat at home, because we ate only Greek food. Don't get me wrong, we always ate good home-made food; my mother was a very good traditional Cretan cook. I just wish she could have been a little more open-minded about the range of foods we were missing out on. However, I don't know if I would have been more accepted by my peers if I had had home-made gingernuts in my school lunch-box instead of koulourakia. After all, my children are quite partial to banana cake muffins and I put them in their lunchboxes.


I bought Delia's cookbook when I was a post-graduate univesity student. My favorite recipes from her book are the ones for orange marmalade, French onion soup and gingernut biscuits, and I've also used it to make chocolate eclairs, quiche and strawberry jam. I've used this book so many times over the past 20 years that it's been in my possession, but the page with the most oil stains, as you can imgaine, is the one with the recipe for gingernuts. To make gingernut biscuits, you need to have some golden syrup (otherwise know as treacle) handy, a honey-like substance. In Crete, we cannot buy such a thing. I'm lucky to have brought back a tin of the stuff from my last visit to New Zealand. I only use it to make gingernuts. Once it's finished, I don't know when I'm going to be able to procure a new tin.

With my adulation of Delia being such, I looked up her website, just to see that recipe for gingernuts recieving the modern glory it deserves - its own website. To my dismay, Delia only includes a recipe for chocolate gingernuts. I don't think I'm willing to give up my ways just yet for the newfangled version of a traditional favorite teatime treat.

You need:
110g self-raising flour
1 large teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
40g light brown sugar (granulated sugar, not the soft dark-brown sticky sugar)
50g margarine
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, mix in the sugar, then lightly rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Next, add the syrup and mix everything together to form a stiff paste (not a stiff dough). Roll small pieces of mixtrue into little balls. Place them well spread out on a greased baking tray. Flatten each ball with the back of a spoon and bake them in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes at 190C. When they are cooked, they will have left attractive cracks on the surface. Let them cool down for 10 minutes before removing them from the baking tin; they actually come out soft from the oven when they are done, and harden while they're cooling down.


What does the New Zealand domestic goddess say about this? The Edmonds cookbooks report the following ingredients. In 1914, the recipe states: "1lb flour, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinammon, 1 tsp spice, 1 egg, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 large tsp baking powder, 1/4lb butter and 1 teacup treacle", while in 1983, it states: "125g butter, 3tbsp golden syrup, 50g brown sugar, 250g flour, pinch of salt, 2 tsp ginger, and 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water". I'm not quite sure what the egg was doing in the former, but it contains a lot of ingredients that keewee also uses in her gingernuts.

If you don't eat them all at once, store them in an airtight tin so that they don't go soft. Mine don't get eaten all at once, as my family aren't quite yet partial to spicy biscuits. Speculoos biscuits are probably the spiciest biscuit a Greek will have eaten. Ginger is not a Greek flavour; ginger ale is only made in Kerkyra (Corfu) which was a British outpost during WWII, while ginger root is now widely available in supermarkets, thanks to the new economic migrants. These hard biscuits go really well with a cup of strong coffee; and since we're talking about coffee, I've just tried out one of the new varieties of aromatic Greek coffee: ouzo, rose and mastiche. Very nice indeed!

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MORE BISCUITS:
Afghans
Brownies
Choclate balls
Koulourakia