Biscuits for Brains
Douglas Adams, an English author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist, is perhaps best known as the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams also tells a personal story of preparing to catch a train in Cambridge, UK in April 1976. Arriving early, he decided to get a cup of coffee, a newspaper to do the crossword and a packet of biscuits (cookies). He sat at a table, arranged his purchases and saw a gentleman sitting opposite wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase. Surprisingly, this unknown individual suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out and ate it. According to Adams, this is the sort of thing the British don’t deal with well. There’s nothing in their background, upbringing, or education that teaches them how to deal with someone who (in broad daylight) has just appropriated their snack.
In the end, he decided to ignore it, stared at his newspaper, took a sip of coffee and tried to figure out his next move. Ultimately, he reached out and took one of the cookies for himself. And then the unknown gentleman took the next cookie. So, the two of them took turns eating cookies until the 8-cracker package was empty. At this point, they exchanged meaningful looks, and the stranger walked away. A moment or two later the train arrived, so Adams finished his coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper lay his packet of cookies. According to Adams, his favorite part of the story is “the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.”
The word “biscuit” is a term used for a variety of flour-based baked food products and originates from the Medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked. The North American biscuit is typically a soft, leavened quick bread, while in the Commonwealth Nations and Ireland a biscuit is a small baked product that would be called either a cookie or a cracker in the United States. The American biscuit generally has a firm, browned crust and a soft interior. The biscuit emerged as a distinct food type in the early 19th century, when cooks created a cheaply produced addition for their meals that required no yeast. Biscuits were laboriously beaten and folded to incorporate air into the dough which expanded when heated in the oven causing the biscuit to rise. The primary advantage of the biscuit over a slice of bread was that it was harder, and therefore kept its shape when wiping up gravy in the popular combination of biscuits and gravy.
While biscuits (cookies) in England come fully prepared in packages, US biscuits can be either made from scratch or purchased in the dairy section of the grocery store. Tubes of biscuits include six to ten pre-made, uncooked units of dough that can be baked or used in various recipes from monkey bread to shepherd’s pie. In order to open the biscuit tube, the cook must first remove the paper cover and expose the cardboard underneath. At this point, a spoon or other utensil can be firmly pressed against the seam in the cardboard to pop the tube open. Then, the chef will take each end of the tube in hand and twist to completely expose the biscuit dough. In some cases, just peeling the paper will allow the biscuits to free themselves from their captivity. At other times, the biscuit tube must be struck against the edge of the counter or other hard surface with enough force to make it pop open.
Since it may actually take multiple attempts to get the tube open, why would someone think that biscuits could spontaneously explode from the tube?
According to a story that took the Internet by storm about 10 years ago, a young lady shopping somewhere in the southern states went to a supermarket to pick up some groceries. After she checked out, several people noticed her sitting in her car with the windows rolled up and her eyes closed, holding both hands on the back of her head. One concerned customer walked over to the car, saw her open her eyes and asked if she was all right. The young lady replied that she had been shot in the back of the head, had initially passed out and had been holding her brains in for the last hour.
The man called paramedics who broke into the car (her doors were locked and she was not about to move her hands). Upon examination, it was determined that she had a wad of bread dough on the back of her head – a biscuit canister had exploded in the heat. The loud noise of the exploding cardboard tube was what she thought to be a gunshot and the sticky dough in her hair was what she believed to be her brains (ICD-10-CM code W20.8XXA, Other cause of strike by thrown, projected or falling object, initial encounter; and Y92.810, Car as the place of encounter of the external cause).
Regardless of the details, this is an example of an Urban Legend and Snopes.com (famous for debunking Internet hysteria) states:
Underlying this humorous story runs the fear of modern crime’s engulfing the innocent, resulting in the undeserving becoming just another drive-by or random shooting statistic. That the loud bang of a canister of biscuit dough exploding in the heat would be mistaken for gunfire says a lot about our feelings of vulnerability.
According to those in the know, it would actually take from three to five house in direct, hot sun with windows up and all doors shut on the car to generate a temperature that could cause a biscuit container to spontaneously rupture and shoot dough into the front seat. So make certain to dodge weaponized pastry by avoiding small, enclosed, hot spaces containing poorly packaged, uncooked dough. And keep an eye on the other groceries as well; what starts out as a biscuit uprising could become an all-out supermarket riot.