The Cottage Smallholder

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Foodie treats for under £2.00: Fortt’s Bath Oliver Biscuits

Photo: Bath Oliver Biscuits

Photo: Bath Oliver Biscuits

Shopping with my mum I reached for a pack of Bath Oliver biscuits and was shocked to see that they were £1.85 (price matched with Tesco). My hand hovered. I love these crackers but could I justify spending almost two quid on them?

These biscuits were invented by Dr William Oliver in the mid 1700’s. Dr Oliver was a medical man and philanthropist. The biscuits were designed as a diet biscuit for his obese clients who were taking the waters in Bath. He died leaving his secret recipe, £100 and some sacks of flour to his coachman, Atkins. The lucky Mr Atkins went on to make a fortune with these biscuits.

My mum introduced me to these in the 1960’s as possibly the best biscuit to eat with cheese. Then she discovered chocolate Bath Oliver’s – a real treat for chocoholics with a penchant for dark rich chocolate (they are a great foodie present too for just under a fiver). I put a tin of these in D’s stocking this Christmas, forgetting that he doesn’t eat dark chocolate so had a very enjoyable ramble through the tin during January.

The plain biscuits are great with Davidstow cheddar or just eaten alone with a cup of sweet tea mid morning. The Min Pins love them too.

“Surely you could make something similar. They can’t be more than flour and water.” My mum is always enthusiastically optimistic, when it comes to what I might be able to do.

I peered at the ingredients on the side of the pack
‘Wheat flour, butter oil, vegetable oil, salt, whole milk powder, malt extract, raising agent (ammonium bicarbonate), yeast, hops.’
No wonder they taste so good.

Not having hops and ammonium bicarbonate to hand I slipped a pack into the trolley. But since then I have been looking for a similar recipe to the ‘secret’ Bath Oliver one. I have discovered a lot of interesting biscuits but had failed to find a recipe for a simple savoury biscuit on a par with the Bath Oliver.

Then this evening I found this link. With a recipe! No hops or malt extract but it’s a start.

Watch this space. It could be biscuit shaped.

  Leave a reply


  1. Linda

    I have tried in Cambridge Sainsbury’s and Waitrose two weeks running – no Bath Olivers. Disaster! What do we eat our Stilton with?!! Have they discontinued them again?

    • James G

      There’s definitely a problem with supply or something at the moment — that’s what’s led me to this article! My local (and two other) Sainsbury’s and Waitrose branches don’t have them, and their websites are saying they’re “currently unavailable”. I hope it’s just a coronavirus-related temporary supply issue. Noticing these in the last few years I’ve been reliving their presence in my childhood! Such a satisfyingly substantial cracker for cheese etc. I hope we both find some soon!

      • Maggie

        Searched everywhere.
        I’m really missing them!

  2. Stephen Pollock-Hill

    Definitely THE biscuit for cheese, no serious cheese board should be without.There was an outcry about six years ago, as the manufacturer discontinued them for a while, due to manufacturing restructuring ( they shut the factory that made them, part of the Jacobs group famous for their cream cracker! They have a licence from Fortts who bought the original recipe from Dr Oliver’s astute coachman! I believe the sackful of complaints “encouraged” Jacobs to set up a production line.
    At the start of the lockdown, I bought a pack that amazed me by their crispness and freshness, that I went out and bought 4 more packs from my local Waitrose. They have now run out……
    Wikipedia has the story, and this literary mention “The reference to Bath Oliver biscuits by Mary Norton in ‘The Borrowers’ 1952 evokes an Edwardian gentility: “. . . and it would comfort him to see, each evening at dusk, Mrs. Driver appear at the head of the stairs and cross the passage carrying a tray for Aunt Sophy with Bath Oliver biscuits and the tall, cut-glass decanter of Fine Old Pale Madeira.” Also Evelyn Waugh mentions them in “Brideshead Revisited” so they are part of England’s literary heritage.
    I think technically Jacobs is owned by a Turkish Holding company, but Amazon add ” They are the biscuit of choice for many wine buffs for cheese”

  3. Rachel Bowen

    Over 50 years ago the British newspaper The Telegraph provided a recipe as the biscuits were no longer available on the market. There was no yeast in the recipe as far as I remember. Unfortunately I did not keep the recipe.

  4. kate (uk)

    Bath Olivers are just lovely- that hint of maltyness and hops….

  5. I’m intrigued – I’ve never heard of them but will certainly look out for them. Or perhaps not – is it a good idea to get hooked on expensive biscuits. Still a recipe that gives a savoury biscuit sounds great. I’ll go straight to the link now. Thank you.

  6. *on* Midsummer Night.

    Puck of Pook’s Hill (first published 1906) is a children’s book by Kipling, celebrating the history of England in its waves of invasion. My copy was – I consult it now – given to me by my doting aunt in 1961.

    She is dead. I am getting old. Bath Olivers are still wonderful.

  7. When I was eight, reading Puck of Pook’s Hill, I was struck by Dan and Una’s picnic:
    “They were not, of course, allowed to act in Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper – hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope….” I was hooked on them even before I lived in a town where you could buy them.

  8. I went straight to the link you gave as we like to have plain biscuits regularly. I was intrigued by the use of yeast in this recipe. Your followers (and me) are going to have great time making these and also watching for your ‘biscuit shaped space’. x

  9. Michelle in NZ

    Sincere thanks for the link. Have been making my own bread and biscuits since Xmas. I don’t have a sweet tooth so am always on the lookout for good savoury biscuit and cracker recipes.

    Results of your redecorating in your home sound wonderful. Give the doglets a pat each from me, then sit back and enjoy the results from your hard work.

    Bestest thoughts, Michelle and Zebbycat in Wellington, NZ

  10. Allotment blogger

    Couldn’t agree more. The Bath Oliver is the Rolls Royce of the biscuit world and I shall definitely watch this space as I’d love to be able to produce a biscuit of this calibre.

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