Christmas may have been two days ago, but it’s not too late to share a holiday memory. This isn’t a memory of a grand vacation or expensive Christmas gift, but it’s as precious to me as something purchased at Tiffany … all wrapped up in navy blue metal tin.
Growing up in the Bronx, there was never a shortage of treats or baked goods around. My great-grandmother, Lena, was a master cook and incredible baker. There were delicious creations coming out of her kitchen year-round, but at holiday time, all bets were off. The incredible home that my grandparents and great-grandparents shared was THE place to drop by if you wanted to have a good time. And during Christmas, the house was like Grand Central Station. You never knew when a cluster of friends, relatives, or friends of relatives would drop by, and my Great-Grandma Lena was always ready to entertain. Sure there was always something that Nanny had prepared herself, but if she liked you . . . if you really mattered, then you would be in for a treat. If you rated—and not everyone did—you got the “royal” treatment! First, you would be given a seat of honor at the table, be it dining room or kitchen depending on the day’s events. Nanny would then prepare you a cup of tea--Lipton, and only Lipton--served in a delicate gold and white china cup. Once the cup was deposited on the table, Nanny would disappear into her cavernous pantry located just off the kitchen and retrieve the blue metal tin.
I realize that in today’s “fancy” society, it might be hard to believe that a cookie from the drugstore was a sign of endearment, but it was. I can remember getting excited when I’d see Nanny return from the pantry with the tin in her hands. She’s place it down on the table and lift the lid with a smile. Now came the hard part – which one to eat first? They were all so pretty, well, all of them except for one. And all the cookies sat in attention in their fluted white paper cups beckoning you to choose.
There was the simple round cookie―unadorned, yet delicious. There was my personal favorite, the pretzel-shaped cookie that was dusted in crunchy sugar crystals. There was the “wreath” and the rectangle. Finally, there was a round cookie that had either currants or coconut in it, which I detested. I was convinced there couldn’t be single person out there who liked that one. (There was, and years later, I’d marry him!) The cookies were crisp, buttery and delicious. Still are.
Having lived through The Depression, Nanny was a practical woman. She was also a woman who enjoyed pretty things. I think part of the draw of those cookies was the tin. Known for her upcycling prowess, Nanny loved using the empty tins in her pantry to hold tea bags, packets of Sweet ‘n Low and even small tools. When we were little and would sneak into Nanny’s pantry for a treat, it was kind of like being on a game show. You had only seconds to choose which tin you were going to open and you never knew whether you’d find cookies or nuts and bolts inside when you lifted the lid! Nanny’s pantry was pure magic, just like the woman herself.
It’s been many years and I still miss Nanny! How I loved to sit at her chrome-trimmed kitchen table and sip tea while watching her work her magic at the stove. As I’d dunk my pretzel-shaped cookie into my tea, I’d be in awe of this tiny woman in the housecoat who meant so much to so many. I threw two tins of those cookies into my shopping basket. Tonight, I’ll make tea and place the open tin on my dining room table. As the buttery, vanilla scent entices my kids to sit down for a moment, I’ll close my eyes and think of days gone by. I’ll listen to the delightful music created by the crinkle of the paper cups as they chose their cookie. Alas, I know which one my husband will chose, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Nobody, except for Nanny, of course.