[The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased a punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris, author of My Wife and Times. We continue this entertaining series with Daniel’s brilliant insights on ancient snacks. —Ed].
These Boxes have Vintage Cookies
By Daniel Will Harris
I just ate some antique cookies—I know, true antiques are over 100 years old, so these cookies were just "vintage." They weren't dated (always dangerous), but from the clues I think they were between three and thirty years old.
I don't consider three years very old for food—at least packaged food (I think we had a pumpkin on our fireplace for over a year—but that was decorative, as is the Christmas tree we've had up for over two years).
At the British Museum they have some food that was packed with mummies three thousand years ago. I remember reading a card that said the rice and other things could still be eaten—so I was pretty sure someone had tried while everyone else's backs were turned.
While my wife's back was turned I extracted the cookies in question which arrived in a holiday gift basket from a friend. He didn't know they were vintage because the basket was all sealed in plastic. But when I unsealed it and saw that some items had expired in three years ago, I figured we were talking vintage food here.
Maybe it was what they call "New Old Stock," which means that it hadn't been used but it was old selling as new. That's a good thing for things like watches. Not a great thing for good gift baskets. Or maybe he got the basket himself some years back and "re-gifted." I don't know the exact provenance of the present and think it would be impolite to ask—or to not at least try the vintage cookies.
I knew the cookies were older than many wines. I knew that some other items in the box were so moldy they looked like something from a horror movie. But I figured that the ones that were sealed would be OK—so I zeroed in on some chocolate covered cookies that looked Belgian but had absolutely not information about where they came from (I thought that was illegal, so maybe the basket was made before these laws).
I opened one box and took a bite of a cookie that looked like it had seen better days. Yes, I know, any sane person would have looked at the cookie, perhaps smelled it and thought, "I don't think so," but not me. I didn't want to be judgmental. I wanted to give the cookie a chance. And besides, we had no other cookies in the house and I was desperate.
I took a bite and it tasted kind of the way tires smell. Since I prefer my cookies to taste like baked goods as opposed to automotive hardware, I threw these away. Normally I put old food outside for the raccoons and skunks, but I'm not one to be cruel to animals.
After this trauma I was able to ignore the other boxes of cookies for weeks. They sat under a chair in the living room. Biding their time. I'm not sure why they stayed there—I can only imagine my wife was afraid to touch them.
But soon I heard them calling my name (though the sound was muffled since it had to come through both a cardboard box and a layer of shiny silver wrapping).
I pulled out one of the plastic-wrapped trays and shook it. I am not sure how I thought I could divine freshness (or lack thereof) from this audible test, but they sounded pretty good.
I tried to unwrap them. The wrapping was of a kind I suspected could be sent on a mission to Mars. It was thick silvery plastic, and no matter how hard I tugged I couldn't open it. I learned, years ago that tugging too hard usually leads to cookies all over the room, so I found some scissors and opened them. Half of them were crushed, but at least they smelled like baked goods.
I took a small bite, lest they taste like Michelin Radials, and amazingly, they were good. Very good. Aged! There were round chocolate ones, and square chocolate ones, and the best ones were the almond cookies that had long since been reduced to a kind of magic cookie dust.
As I was eating them (a whole half of a box, to be honest), I did think about Peter Pan. Or Captain Hook, actually, and the green birthday cake he had made to poison the Lost Boys. But I hadn't seen any hook marks on the package and I know my friend wouldn't intentionally poison me, and besides, they tasted good.
So there, I've admitted it. I'll even admit I'd consider eating cookies from the Eisenhower administration if they didn't smell like an Edsel. That's just the kind of person I am.