When you read my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir, Utterly Undiscovered, you’ll see how garibaldis play a strong part in My Basil’s troubled life. For example, when he shows Kimberley, the fat American to her room:
“I lever her through the narrow upstairs corridor and, taking a sideways tack, she squeezes her way into the Tulip Room. I last see her heading for the garibaldis.”
For those not familiar with garibaldis, they consist of currants squashed between two thin, oblong biscuits, making a kind of currant sandwich, or ‘dead fly biscuit’ as it’s sometimes known. Traditionally consumed with tea or coffee, into which they’re often dunked, garibaldis have been popular in Britain for 150 years.
But what of the name? Well, its origins lie in mid-nineteenth century Italy, where it was produced by a father and son team as a simple biscuit for troops fighting in the wars of unification. The father, Gari, or as we would have known him, Gary, oversaw manufacture of the less-than-sweet, golden brown pastry, while his son Calvo controlled the currant presses.
Following a business trip to England by Gari and Calvo, production of the biscuit sold in Italy as ‘garicalvo’ was started in London by Peek Freans in 1861 under the supervision of famous biscuit maker, Jonathan Dodgson Carr. Aware of the British interest in things Italian stemming from the Grand Tour, Carr set about finding a softer-sounding name than garicalvo, yet more marketable than say, ‘squashed fly sandwich’.
It so happened that his uncle had spent many years in Florence, and pointed out that calvo was Italian for bald or bald-headed. Himself follicly challenged, masking his hair loss with an astute comb-over, Carr had grown accustomed to taunts of, ‘Nice shine, Jon!’ or from the cheekier factory hands, ‘Hey – baldy!’ It all seemed to fit. By linking this most cutting of jibes to the founding father’s name, he could honour the origins of the biscuit, yet give it a new, exotic image for Victorian coffee houses. The garibaldi was born.
This exposé should increase your pleasure reading about, say, the two picky Belgians who call at Cricklewood Cottage and ask to see a room:
“Two Belgians, speaking little English, inspect the Rose Room. They pull back the bed linen, peer inside the shower cubicle, bounce on the bed, check the views and poke about on the tea tray. I half expect them to nibble the garibaldis. All the while, they pass comments in Flemish (so that’s where “phlegm” comes from), none of which I understand.”
Paul Costello © February 2013
Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello.
Illustrated by Emma Hames.
Publication: spring 2013. Fineleaf Editions http://www.fineleaf.co.uk