Sit at the dinner table #5 Cookie (桃酥), A Dessert Shared East and West

On Saturday, we drove along beautiful Tennessee fields for hours, trying to get to Englewood Farmer’s Market at Athens, Tennessee. Our GPS failed us a couple of times, in the middle of corn fields, soybean fields, a happy female voice announced that we had reached our destination. We looked around, seeing only the lush greens and our lone car.

Eventually, by following the signs on the winding roadside which we did not pay attention to before, we arrived at the market. It was quite ironic that by overly trusting the new technology, we did not find this Amish marketplace, the old-fashioned hand-written signs did a better job. There is a reason why Amish people isolate themselves from the modern world we are in.

We bought a whole basket of fresh vegetables and a plate of homemade dinner rolls, a package of peanut butter cookies there.

The dinner rolls are the kind you would die for. But it was the peanut butter cookies that surprised me big time!

Of course, I had peanut butter cookies many times. Somehow, this one, crispy but not hard, buttery but not overly sweet, so similar to the cookies I had in China. A bite into it took me back, thousands of miles away, many years ago, into my childhood.

The cookies we have in China is called 桃酥, walnut cookies. It is made of lard, not butter. 桃酥 is a very ordinary snack in China. However, when I was little, snacks were kind of luxury aside from regular meals. It was a treat for special holidays or visiting guests. We didn’t have them regularly. My little brother’s nanny was a nice country lady but really preferred boys over girls, a sad tradition that has a long history in China. She would give cookies to my little brother and said: “Eat it quickly, don’t let your sister see it!” It had happened so many times and I had run into my brother hurrying to swallow cookies. Even today, I could still see him holding the cookie tin tightly when he saw me coming, very nervous but determined to defend HIS cookies at any cost. It took my parents quite a while and numerous efforts to teach my little brother to share after his nanny left us.

In Chinese families, by tradition, the elderly are highly respected. So, if they could afford snacks, they would serve the elderly first. And most elderly Chinese live with their adult children. A touching scene would be the grandkids know their grandpa/grandma has a cookie tin somewhere in their home and they would look for it. Then, the kindly grandma/grandpa would take out the cookie tin, slowly open it, while all the little ones surrounding her/him tightly nudging each other a bit, hungrily smelling the escaped aroma of cookies from the slightly opened tin, watching her/his every move closely. Grandma/grandpa carefully took out cookies and gave each of the kids one or sometimes half of a cookie. A happy scene to both the grandparents and the little kids, a fond memory to them all is saved somewhere in their heart.

When my dad was in his elderly stage, he had a cookie tin too. He had stored some of his favorite snacks there, not limited to 桃酥, but also had Danish shortbreads. China has been prosperous for quite a few years then, snacks are plenty. I think, to my dad, doing that was like fulfilling a childhood dream of growing into a respected elderly, enjoying being surrounded and chased by his grandchildren.

I have enjoyed my Amish peanut butter cookie with a cup of tea. It not only brings back some memories of my childhood, my dad, but also a bit of amusement. At the Amish market check out counter, an Amish gentleman said something to me that I could not understand at first. He looked at my face, said it the second time. I was puzzled for a moment, then, realized that he was greeting me in Japanese. I smiled, said: “I am not a Japanese, I am a Chinese.” He immediately switched his greeting with 你好(how are you)! And mumbled “I usually could tell!” in a low voice.

The world is really changing, who would think an Amish guy will greet you in Japanese or Chinese?

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