If Elizabeth II, the queen regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is still alive come Thursday, June 2, her subjects are in for a real treat: a four-day weekend marking 70 years of her reign. Known as the Platinum Jubilee, the anniversary of the queen’s ascent to the throne on February 6, 1952 will be celebrated all year, and in typical British ways over the long weekend: holiday in Greece or Mallorca for some; Swiss roll drenched in custard and slathered in Jell-O for others. Some of us will eat lunch in the middle of the street. However one chooses to observe, money will be spent.
With Brexit done (sort of) and COVID over (according to the government), there’s nothing to do but kick back and enjoy the great British pastime of being sold some crap. Unsurprisingly, much of it is food and dining-related. Royal pageantry is often accompanied by the ceremony of an Important Meal, after all. If the queen’s 1953 anointment in Westminster Abbey gave the world anything meaningful aside from 70 years of this, it was probably coronation chicken, a dish of cold poultry dressed in a pale-yellow curry cream sauce.
The dish was developed by Rosemary Hume of L’Ecole du Petit Cordon Bleu in London along with notable florist Constance Spry, and served to 350 guests, mostly foreign dignitaries, at a luncheon where it was listed on the menu as Poulet Reine Elizabeth. Most people probably don’t know the words to Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” but now every British supermarket sells a sandwich with coronation chicken filling; it also comes in tubs, and dog food.
But, that was 70 years ago, and it’s not special anymore. (Did you hear about the dog food?) Luckily, certain things are so timeless and enduring that they transcend mere specialness and become representative of not so much national character as the character a nation intentionally projects. In 2020, Laurie Penny wrote in an essay called “Tea, Biscuits, and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness” of how Britain’s cultural products are window dressing on a rotting structure. “There is a narrative chasm between the twee and borderless dreamscape of fantasy Britain and actual, material Britain, where rents are rising and racists are running brave,” Penny wrote. “The chasm is wide, and a lot of people are falling into it. The omnishambles of British politics is what happens when you get scared and mean and retreat into the fairytales you tell about yourself.”
The con identified in the title of Penny’s essay zeroes in on tea and biscuits, the things being sold by most brands this year to commemorate the Jubilee: instruments to take tea, and cookies to eat with it. From a distance, these seem like neutral symbols, a commonality across divides. In fact, tea and biscuits are products of colonialism, with tea imported to Britain from far-flung locales, and sugar notoriously coming into the country as a product of the Atlantic slave trade. And the chasm that Penny describes, the gap between the myth and the reality, is best represented in Platinum Jubilee souvenirs.
So whatever your aesthetic (one does not say “vibe”), some retailer is selling a Jubilee tin of biscuits suited to you along with something commemorative to drink your tea out of.
A note about terminology: If Paul Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that a biscuit is a very specific type of cookie, with a requisite snap. I haven’t watched Bake Off in years, but when I transcend mortality I know I will find Paul wandering from station to station on the astral plane, eternally breaking people’s biscuits in two. And as easy as it is to claim that “biscuit” is the British word for cookie, the British do also have cookies; nobody would say they want to eat a chocolate chip biscuit. And so I am going to be using both of these words, and as I am an American copy editor living in Britain, know that I think whichever word I am using at the time is, if not correct, at least funny.
In the Sontagian sense of naivete unaware of its own absurdity.
Walker’s The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Tin, 12 British pounds ($15)
Nothing goes great with some shortbread like the grim reminder of life’s incessant march. As in Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time, the images on this tin parade by the specter of death, withering as they pass. Can you comprehend that the gamine 25-year-old queen has aged into a 96-year-old woman, and all it took was 70 years? Unbelievable. Only people who produce and export cookies could connive such a striking memento mori.
The second-best feature of this tin is that it says, in all caps, PURE BUTTER SHORTBREAD. The point of a collector’s tin is that, in theory, you can put something else in it later. Not for nothing do those Danish butter cookie tins outlive their original purpose. But no matter what this striking vanitas later contains — hamantaschen? these guava bars? — it’ll always say PURE BUTTER SHORTBREAD.
Thirsty? Pair it with:
This is a completely normal and regular set of mugs to have. It definitely is not weird to have a line drawing of a dead man looking at you while you stir oat milk into your coffee. All the heteronormativity of his-and-hers, but make it colonial.
One step beyond merely slapping a picture of the queen on it.
Fortnum’s Platinum Jubilee Biscuit Selection, 25 British pounds ($32)
Fortnum & Mason is a 300-year-old department store on Piccadilly known for selling biscuit-filled customizable picnic hampers and a range of Prince Charles’s products made from ingredients produced by his Highgrove estate. Also, they serve afternoon tea upstairs in what they call the Diamond Jubilee salon, honoring the 60-year milestone in 2012; they ran a contest this year to discover a Platinum pudding to mark the occasion; and from a case on the ground floor they sell not just glace pineapples, but also glace tomatoes.
Fittingly, F&M has commissioned a graphic of the Imperial State Crown from DesignBridge, which they have plastered on their Jubilee packaging. The crown is composed of emblems “bringing together little known facts that celebrate the Queen’s extraordinary life,” according to the side of the tin.
This struck me because, on one hand, we are talking about one of the most documented and discussed people ever — and yet, by design, the public has little if any view to her interiority. The symbols comprising the crown hint at pretty well-disseminated queen info: There are horses because she loves horses, and a swan because the queen can claim ownership over the unmarked mute swans in England and Wales. (She does not, as is sometimes said, own all the swans in England, although the crown takes a conservation census of all the swans on the Thames each July.) There is a dorgi, that is, a dachshund-corgi mix, a breed whose creation is credited to the queen herself.
All of this, when viewed in full, makes up the F&M image of the Imperial State Crown; the real deal was most recently seen sitting next to Prince Charles as he read the Conservative government-penned Queen’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament in mid-May 2022. This box contains nine varieties of biscuit, but the visual presentation is its own feast, a delicious text on the public role of the monarch.
Anyway, time to rank the cookies:
9. Scottish honey
8. Irish barmbrack
7. Chocolate dipped Welsh Aberffraw shell
6. Milk chocolate covered English toffee
5. Irish coffee
4. English strawberries & cream
3. Welsh plum & stem ginger
2. Decorated chocolate & macadamia nut
1. Scottish cranachan
Cranachan is a Scottish dessert of toasted oats layered with whipped cream, with whisky, honey, and raspberries folded in. It’s luxurious and gloppy. “Where’s my cranachan?” is what I’m always asking. Well, here it is in biscuit form. All these biscuits are pretty good, however, and you get a big ovular tin with a swan and a horse and a dorgi on it.
I would never dunk anything chocolate in a cup of tea, but if you insist, the Royal Collection — the queen’s gift shop, more or less — has a couple of mug options for you. Note that at time of writing the Royal Collection shop has suspended orders temporarily because their Jubilee stuff has been so wildly popular, but many of the items are due to be restocked. Maybe sign up for email notifications so you can get ahead of the stragglers:
Royal Collection Machin Design Coffee Mug, 20 British pounds ($25)
Calling all royalist philatelists: This design is named after Arnold Machin, who created the relief portrait in profile of the queen that appeared on British coins between 1967 and 1984, and still graces British postage stamps. The word “iconic,” so often bandied about, is literal here; you know this is the queen without the mug saying “her majesty” or “Platinum Jubilee” on it even once.
Royal Collection Platinum Jubilee Floral Emblem Coffee Mug, 25 British pounds ($32)
Stamps not to your fancy? There’s also a mug that bears the national symbols of the four U.K. countries and the official Jubilee emblem, which depicts the Imperial State Crown with the numbers 70 traced above it. The design recalls that of Elizabeth’s coronation gown, which was similarly embroidered with the English rose, Welsh daffodil, Scottish thistle, and Irish shamrock.
One of the three aesthetics, fitting for the nation that gave us “Octopus’s Garden,” Cadbury Creme eggs, and dorgis.
Buckingham Palace x Biscuiteers Platinum Jubilee, 58 British pounds ($75)
My plan was to buy this entire biscuit tin. Then I saw the contents displayed at one of the three Royal Collection shops in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. This tin really contains a lot of cookies — who was going to eat all those cookies? Also, the tin itself has the artwork just stuck on, so you can’t even wash it. What kind of keepsake is that?
Luckily, some of these cookies are sold a la carte, so I picked up a crown (St. Edward’s this time) and Queenie, a gingerbread Elizabeth II. The crown has edible shimmer on it, and it looks cool. Like every biscuit in the Jubilee tin, it is lightly lemon; in terms of the texture, the packaging says to consume within six months, which I think covers things. I dunked it in tea, and the biscuit became soft immediately without falling apart, while the royal icing (coincidental) stayed crunchy.
If you have £58 and a friend who loves drama, just buy the whole tin. Someone out there does love an array of carefully adorned, thematically congruent biscuits, and this set will delight that person. But if you have to buy just one Biscuiteers item for some reason, get Queenie — if you can get over the idea of eating an entire actual person in effigy. The light ginger flavor is nice, the texture a little chewy.
It comes in a box decorated with an adorable drawing of a gingerbread house, so you can make the joke that maybe a witch lives there, and then open it up to find — ah! The queen! Everyone will have a larf. How jubilant.
If you want that soft, dipped-in-tea biscuit texture:
Emma Bridgewater UK Rainbow Toast Jubilee Tree Planting 1/2 Pint Mug, 22 British pounds ($28)
The Emma Bridgewater aesthetic is cottagecore lite, MacKenzie-Childs with the edge off (if you can imagine). Like two dials to the right of that Audrey Gelman store. It’s very summer house to me, painted mugs that seem very heavy; maybe you keep them in your other house because you don’t want to use them all of the time, because you might strain your wrist. Many designs to choose from.
These Jubilees start at year 25 of someone’s reign, the next one is at 50, and they’re every 10 years after that; Elizabeth II is 96 and if her son becomes king this year, he won’t have a Jubilee until he’s 98 in 2047 — if he doesn’t make it, the counter starts over. So maybe make the most of it now, is all I’m saying.
M&S All Butter Shortbread with Strawberries & Clotted Cream Tin, 8 British pounds ($10)
I propose that the grocery arm of the Marks & Spencer department store chain is a kind of British Trader Joe’s analogue, not in the feel — too posh — but because they sell predominantly own-brand products, many of which are one or more of the following: seasonal, indelible, inexplicable, idiosyncratic. This one ticks all four boxes, a Jubilee-edition cookie tin in the shape of a merry-go-round that is also a rotating music box, with strawberries-and-cream shortbread inside. This is plainly a rip-off of a non-Jubilee product from Fortnum & Mason, but it’s also much less expensive.
Once you’re eating biscuits out of a music box, you may as well go all-out with your tea:
Royal Collection Platinum Jubilee Limited Edition Teacup and Saucer, 225 British pounds ($285)
This is the signature Royal Collection Platinum Jubilee pattern, in the purple shade that’s appeared on a number of these products already. Before the advent of synthetic dyes, purple was a hard-to-manufacture, rare color to which royalty had the best access, thus creating an association between purple and kingship that persists to this day. Purple-hued porphyry, for example, was reserved for carvings of emperors in the late Roman Empire, and it’s the color of the new Elizabeth Line on the Tube map. So, here it is again, on all manner of Royal Collection merch, ranging from hard candies to this very British little cake to these tea towels.
But, you can’t drink out of those. Now, you could buy the entry-level Platinum Jubilee commemorative teacup (65 British pounds, $80). If you intend to revel in pure opulence, however, don’t half-ass it: The Limited Edition Teacup and Saucer has gold embellishments and a more prominent, curvaceous handle. Pair it with the Limited Edition Teapot (350 British pounds, $440), which is no better at containing tea than any other teapot, but with this one approaches a level of gaudiness that more restrained teapots can only imagine.
Odds and ends
This thing goes way deeper than just biscuits and mugs.
Talking Tables Royal Platinum Jubilee Party Bundle, 32 British pounds ($40)
This kit comes with everything you need to throw a street party if you can’t make it to someone else’s: bunting, paper plates, napkins, streamers, balloons, and a disposable cake stand, all featuring a riff on the royal coat of arms, with a lion and unicorn. Honorable mention for the banner inscription reading “one is totally recyclable,” which replaces the standard “dieu et mon droit” — French for “God and my right,” as in, to rule.
Cath Kidston Jubilee Royal Bouquets Easy Adjust Apron, 26 British pounds ($33)
To anyone missing that late-2000s retro aesthetic, no worries; designer Cath Kidston is still cranking out post-hipster homewares on the high street. The brand’s Jubilee design is a frothy portrait of the young queen, bedecked by laurels, ribbons, crowns, and jewels in pinks, lilacs, and baby blues. It’s all a little rococo, but you’ll need an apron if you’re going to attempt any of these grueling Jubilee puddings.
Charbonnel et Walker Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration Hamper, 160 British pounds ($200)
Prestat Platinum Jubilee Milk Rhubarb Thins, 22.50 British pounds ($30)
Brits are absolutely blessed to have not one but two separate royal warrant-holding chocolatiers from which to buy Champagne truffles. Sadly, they are both phoning it in a little with their Jubilee offerings. Charbonnel et Walker, housed in a little lightbox of a shop down the Royal Arcade off Piccadilly, has stamped that Imperial State Crown 70 emblem on a couple of its Platinum purple boxes. Prestat, meanwhile, has covered its Jubilee chocolate boxes with an illustrated pattern of the queen’s multicolored hats. Like the Machin portrait, it’s good design: Show me an image of the queen without showing me the queen. They’ve plastered this print on a box of assorted chocolates, but their other option is rhubarb milk chocolate discs, seasonably fitting.