That's the Way the Empire Crumbles
Cookies of the Fortunate
Yes, edible cookies, not those digital ones implanted in our computers. Our younger generation has grown up in the new cookie world. It seems they can scarcely imagine the must-have-been-boring lives of their ancestors when cookies were a real treat—especially homemade, not little crumbly things in a cello-bag with a happy meal.
One aspect of that boring world I experienced was the Empire biscuit, which has its own story.
In the summer of 1914, confectioners in the British Isles were faced with a dilemma. Years earlier, they had adapted a popular German pastry type – the Linzer (torte and cookie), and produced what they called the Linzer biscuit or the Deutsch biscuit.
So when World War I began, the Linzer / Deutsch biscuit was quickly renamed—in England it became the Empire biscuit; in Scotland the Belgian biscuit because of the German invasion of Belgium. Today they are most commonly called Empire biscuits.
My grandmother Meg made Empire biscuits in America for years, and my mother fondly recalls them as a child in the 20s and 30s. Mom never made them as an adult, for Meg always made them for the special occasions which called for them. My cousin passed on Meg’s recipe, and my wife made her first Empire biscuits (which turned out perfectly). Yesterday she presented them to my delighted mother on her 98th birthday.
Mom has long experience and an active memory. But given the new social media and virtual reality, many whose primary social and discursive world is “virtual” routinely consider folks like her to be long out of touch with reality and “progress.” But many such elderly see this “progress” on the nightly news and fear for their grandchildren.
I find Mom’s memory helpful, for it carries a wealth of collected life experiences, including those of the lives of others, which, taken together, create a world deeper and more human than any virtual reality programmed for me by wealthy strangers.
Simple memories often tell deeper tales. Growing up in Depression-era Detroit, Mom saw her carpenter-father out of regular work for three years. Meg worked in a school cafeteria part-time. Grandpa had holes in his shoes while the Meg and the kids had none—the family came first.
Like most of their neighbors, my grandparents had been renting their house from a wealthy real estate developer, Mr. Utley. As the Depression deepened, money for rent became scarce. Utley sent his manager around to the renters to inform them that his boss would in no way allow them to lose their housing—they could stay put and pay whatever rent they could and catch up later.
When the economy improved, Utley, who also owned commercial and industrial properties, decided to abandon the single-family housing market. My grandparents were then given both the chance to buy their home for a low price and a generous flexibility in making payments. So grandpa finally became a homeowner in his forties.
My grandparents’ neighborhood, dubbed by its residents “Little Europe” for the many nationalities represented, was made up of blue collar families who by and large endured and “made the best of” the Depression. I never heard any relative or member of that generation blame someone or something for it. Most seemed grateful for their childhood experiences. Those still alive remains so.
Only twenty years after my grandfather purchased his first house, he suddenly died, while Meg lived her final 23 years as a widow surrounded by grandchildren, still making Empire biscuits, throwing Christmas eve parties, and enriching the lives of dozens of cousins, whom she treated so very well, with little money to spend.
Bakers may rename a cookie; but its nature remains--a sweet and pleasant treat, whether called Linzer, Belgian, Empire, or Commonwealth. Simple treats were special, not everyday affairs. But in our age of warehouse shopping, we are urged to indulge daily in what we crave and “deserve”; there seem to be few treats left.
Simple goodness of spirit and contentment are faint in virtual reality and civil life wears thin. Russell Kirk wrote of the “unbought grace of life” (from Edmund Burke). Meg had it and passed it on in confidence, knowing that the Lord's empire is just around the corner. Enjoy.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Andre in Lebanon recently shared about the difficulties they are facing with the collapse of the economy there and the resultant chaos. Andre quoted a Tim Keller sermon where Frodo lamented to Gandalf about the evil they were facing: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf wisely responded, “So do all who live in such times, but it is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I like how the post ends: "Meg had it (the unbought grace of life) and passed it on in confidence, knowing that the Lord's empire is just around the corner.