The Dorset knob throwing contest

This year’s Dorset Knob Throwing Festival has been canceled.

This year’s what? Dorset Knob Throwing Festival. Let’s break that down into its parts.

Dorset: A British county

Dorset Knob: a biscuit made in Dorset

Biscuit: a British word for cookie (in the baking, as opposed to electronic, sense of the word) or, just to confuse things, for biscuit (in the American sense of the word)

Cookie: an American word for biscuit but always sweet, unlike the British biscuit, which you have to sneak up on carefully to find out if it’s dessertish or with-cheese-ish

So is the Dorset knob sweet or not-sweet?


Irrelevant photo: strange plant a friend gave us

As far as I can remember (I had one years ago), it’s somewhere in the middle: not dessertish but not unsweetened. The BBC, which knows these things, reports that “they can be eaten with Blue Vinny cheese, dipped in tea or cider, or taken with honey and cream—known locally as thunder and lightning.”

The Dorset knob was created some 150 years ago in—you got it: Dorset. Which is a county (see above). In England (see a map). It was created out of leftover bread dough plus butter and sugar, then left to dry (not to mention bake) in an oven that was cooling down, and it was popular enough to hang around for 150 years.

Or that’s one version of how they’re made.

Another is that it originated with “Maria Bligdon, ‘a formidable woman with striking looks and great strength. She could handle a sack of flour as well as any man and was known for getting her own way.’ [I’m not sure who we’re quoting here. Sorry.] Around 1852 she began the ‘White Cross Baker’ in Litton Cheney, near Dorchester [someone should’ve put a comma here but, in the interest of verisimilitude and other big words, I’ll leave it out since this is a quote] where one of her bakers, Mr Moores, either devised [wait, wait, here’s where the comma got to!], or introduced [and here’s a spare in case we need it later; I’m not distracting you, am I?], the Dorset Knob. The recipe consists of bread dough with sugar and butter, shaped into round balls by hand and baked three times, to produce a crumbly rusk-like texture. On Mary Blingdon’s death, Moores set up his own bakery at Morcombelake with his sons, which continues to this day.”

If you’re reading carefully, you’ll notice that on her death Mary also acquired a second N in her last name.

The Dorset knob had a real moment during World War II, when it was made “compulsory as a soup roll during the rationing of World War II, possibly because of its excellent keeping qualities.”

So much, so ho-hum (except for the idea of a food item being compulsory, which is sort of chilling). Then in 2008 some wiseacre got the idea of holding a festival where everybody threw the things. That’s one of the ways you can tell rationing’s over: grownups think throwing food’s a good idea.

Why do they do that? The winters here aren’t all that cold, but they can be dark and rainy. That does things to people. After eleven years in this country, I understand why sooner or later someone will turn to a neighbor—or to the person next to them at the bar—and say, “Why don’t we hold a knob-throwing festival?” And it’ll sound like a good idea.

Really, it will.

This particular festival includes—or in the past has included—not just knob throwing but a knob eating contest and an assortment of other games involving knobs: archery, weight guessing, darts, pyramid building.

Now put the knob eating contest out of your mind. You’ll be grateful to me, because the festival also, daringly, includes a pin-the-knob-on-the-Cerne-Giant contest. Or at least on a picture of the giant.

Why’s that daring? Because the Cerne Giant is a huge, anatomically correct male figure cut into a nearby chalky hillside. As drawn, he’s—shall we say he’s interested in someone? You’ll find a photo here.

In a nod to modern sensibilities, the picture used in the game has been edited into inoffensiveness. You can pin the knob wherever you like, because you won’t hurt him too badly.

I don’t know how they score the game (I also don’t know how people fix a Dorset knob onto a piece of paper, but never mind), but I did wonder what the winning spot would be.

It might be worth knowing, in this context, that the Oxford online dictionary lists a “vulgar slang” definition in which knob means exactly the part that’s missing from the picture. I can’t believe that bit of information didn’t rise to the surface of some brain other than mine. Especially since, more or less by definition, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the male anatomy. Unless, of course, I’m writing about giants chalked into a hillside. Away from hillsides, I prefer the female anatomy. It’s just one of those things.

According to the same dictionary, knob can also mean “a small flock of wigeon, pochard, or teal (ducks),” but it does note that it’s a rare meaning. The dictionary doesn’t mention Dorset knobs.

The organizers hope the festival will be back in 2019 and better than ever. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by. And keep your mind out of the gutter.


I have to thank—or possibly blame—Bear Humphries for sending me a link to this story and suggesting that it was just strange enough to suit me. Check out his blog. It’ll serve him right.

87 thoughts on “The Dorset knob throwing contest

  1. Bahahha. You’re the Cerne Giant pimp. Everybody clicked that link. For some reasons that photo caused a giggle fit. Thanks! How’s the weather, by the way? Considering that we had snow and were on the outskirts of the black hole drawn on the weather forecast map and you were right there in the middle, I’m glad to see you survived.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We had an inch or two of powdery snow, which is enough to shut us down, but more seriously we had freezing rain, which was enough to keep us (by which I mean, more personally, Wild Thing and me) inside. We know better than to mess with that stuff–it’s lethal. We (and here we’re back to the general “we”) also had lots of freezing pipes (not ours, I’m happy to say), closed schools, and missed days of work. Within a day of the freezing rain, the temperature went back above freezing and we were back to normal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am still quite puzzled by the sweet/savory battle the Brits have with the biscuit/cookie conundrum. The last place I would want to find cheese, or even worse, beef, is in a cookie. Maybe next festival, should it not be canceled, you bring some oreos? Just sayin’…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It has to be said that Dorset knobs are rather light. So throwing them in any wind above a gentle breeze, could, I imagine, see you with a negative distance recorded. I always thought of them as more savoury than sweet. Definitely a thing with cheese, but perhaps not for the fragile of tooth.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I had slightly confusing visions of people with giant bread/bun/biscuit/cake things going up a hill in Cerne Abbas and stabbing them into the Giant whilst blindfolded…there might also be large metal stakes involved… then trying to eat the results…
    I seems liable to getting some what bloody and murderous…

    I appreciate this is a somewhat different picture to that many people had…but I know how big the Cerne Abbas Giant is and any other knob eating contest would result in dislocations and doesn’t bear thinking about O_O

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If I were a naked giant, I think I’d prefer a cookie (American, sorry) being pinned somewhere than a rolling barrel of burning tar, cheese are some of the other festivals you’ve written about When you (they) say “baked three times,” is that like today, tomorrow and the next day or taking it out, looking at it and putting it back in twice? Oh well, something to ponder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Y’know, I hadn’t thought about what baked three times means but it’s a damn good question. I may start claiming my bread’s baked twice because I set the timer twice so I can turn the oven down halfway through. Also because we know what I’m like with numbers.

      And yes, the festivals here do have a life-threatening quality to them. Giant aside, the Dorset knob business is pretty mild–probably because it’s a recent invention. I keep wondering why our village doesn’t start a festival where we roll giant round hay bales downhill, Then I remember that I’ve got a couple of friends who live right where the downhill road takes a sudden turn and the bales wouldn’t. And I remember (in very vague terms) what the bales weight and I tell myself to shut up about the idea.


  6. I confess I have vaguely heard of this, but did wonder whether it was a) A contest throwing knobs which takes place in Dorset b) A contest in which something called Dorset knobs are thrown (this could take place anywhere, of course – you could have a Cornish Dorset knob throwing contest), or c) A contest between knobs (slang derogatory term) that is taking place in Dorset this year. Now I am enlightened. Time to go to the pub.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmmm, no wonder you posed a random photo of a plant instead of the Dorest Nob (that Cerne Giant also is a nob, a really big one) because those do no look like biscuits to me. Those are buns. Or Scones. Biscuits, surely are flat things.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is on the verge getting too technical for me, but I have to add that baking powder biscuits look pretty much like scones but are biscuits. They’re a central part of American food in the south and in the black community.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! In the South “Biscuits” are like scones?!!? That nearly sent my head into a parallel universe. I just looked up “Biscuit in USA” for an image (being a visual person) and up came an picture of something I would have called a scone. Amazing! Hence the reason why Americans have cookies (for what we’d call a biscuit). It’s all starting to make sense. I expect that the scone-type biscuit is the original type of biscuit because the USA often seems to keep older versions of words and pronunciations and the UK go and change them – I am thinking of the word missile as an example here. We are divided by a common language indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Missile? Tell me about that one. I didn’t realize we were using it differently. Admittedly, it’s not one that comes up often in conversation.

          The southern/black American biscuit doesn’t taste like a scone. I mention that because some people eat them with gravy, and if you expect a scone you’ll be horrified.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, I grew up at the end of the first “Cold War” and the missile came up on the news. Brits use a long “i” for that second i, so it sounds like “isle”. Americans pronunciation would rhyme with “thistle”. Apparently the American way of saying is how everyone said it back in C17th before they left Britain to settle in what became the USA.

            Do these southern biscuits taste like dumplings? Because dumpling and gravy makes sense to me but a scone and gravy would take some getting used to! Sorry, for such an irrelevant conversation. My husband thinks I am crazy for even discussing it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Irrelevant? Here? Almost everything I write is irrelevant, which makes the discussion frighteningly relevant.

              But to our topic, whatever it is: I wouldn’t say they taste like dumplings but they’re in the same good-with-gravy category as dumplings. Let’s think of them as stealth dumplings. Or undercover bread.

              Thanks for the discussion of missile. You’re right about the American pronunciation, and I hadn’t noticed that the British one’s different. As I think I mentioned, it doesn’t come up a lot in everyday conversation. I’ll bet it didn’t in the 17th century either, although I do understand that they’d have had a different definition of it then.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Well, yes, I have always been interested in the irrelevant details of life. Why was when I was studying for my History degree (and 30 years later) I could easily remember that the German Chancellor Bismarck’s chief ambition was to smoke 100,000 cigars and quaff 5,000 bottles of champagne. The finer details of his policies. No idea. Just not as irrelevant or interesting to me, I guess! I just had to look up, if he’d achieved his ambition. According to “Look and Learn” website (surely a reliable source for History?) he did. So I can rest easy on that score!

                Liked by 1 person

              • Thank you for adding to my store of irrelevant knowledge. My life is richer today than it was yesterday.

                I wonder if there’s a market for a book stuffed with that kind of historical fact. I have a hunch there is.

                Liked by 1 person

  8. Am in agreement with Emma, they are more like buns, biscuits are flat. It may interest you to know (or then again possibly not but I’ll tell you anyway) the buns are based on the shape of the Dorset Knobs which were originally handmade buttons and the first Dorset buttons to be made. They were made from sheep’s horn, fabric and thread. For further reading, the wonderful Anna McDowell BEM (British Empire Medal) has a fascinating blog all about them.
    I’m not sure if they threw them about or sewed them on Giant’s knobs though.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I can’t help but wonder if the stats took a noticeable leap from the link you provided for that somewhat lascivious Cerne Giant who is (as you so delicately put it) “interested in someone?” It may even add some interesting search terms to your stats. You’re very good at that. :D

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. You got the like before I even read it for the “irrelevant ‘ picture that caught my. Trying desperately to get my mind out of the gutter. I didn’t know a knob was a type of biscuit. That explains why you get Hobnobs I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been too long since I had one. That’s too long in the sense of I don’t remember, not in the sense of I’m longing for one. I don’t remember them as particularly heavy. In fact, my guess would be that they’re fairly light. Which does raise the question of how well anyone can throw them.

      Having raised it (okay, you raised it, but it doesn’t make as neat a sentence), I can’t answer it, and I’m damned if I’m driving all the way to Dorset next year just to find out. And that’s assuming they manage to pull off a festival then. We’ll just have to leave this in the great unknown. British festivals tend to be mysterious. Ask yourself why nobody ends up in flames at the festival where they carry flaming. tar barrels. I can’t answer that one either.

      Liked by 1 person

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