My beloved grandmother, Nanny, was a surprise baby, coming along when her two older sisters were teenagers. I never met Aunt Elia as she died before I was born, but I grew up not far from Aunt Da (short for Hilda). She was my mother's favorite aunt, and I remember her and her home with such clarity. The house, the one in which she, Nanny and Aunt Elia grew up, was on a corner lot in the old part of Lake Charles, right near the train tracks. My sister and I used to go put pennies on the tracks, quickly scram until after the trains whizzed by, and then eagerly go and fetch our flattened, paper-thin, copper treasures. Aunt Da's front porch housed several of those old fashioned metal lawn chairs that come in a spectrum of vivid hues and in her backyard she grew all sorts of flowers and hung her laundry to dry. Her kitchen was at the rear of the house. Good smells ceaselessly emanated from it, and she always had a stash of something yummy in the icebox (as she called it) or on the counter: a lemon meringue or french silk pie or a canister of tea cookies perhaps. Her kitchen sink was deep, one of those old enamel types that's forever cold and will last forever. Aunt Da used to wash my hair in there. Her strong, gnarled hands so capably and gently massaged green Prell into sudsy mounds which she'd rinse with cold water shot through with a bit of white vinegar, if memory is accurate.
She died when I was in middle school I think. It was so long ago, I can't truly recall, but I know my Mom missed her daily for years afterwards and dreamed of her regularly. There are still pictures of Aunt Da at Mom's house and at Nanny's too. They all capture her kindly, wrinkled face, a countenance in which you could see years of hard work but also a strength and depth of love that seemed never-ending.
This morning, I found myself thinking of her tea cakes, simple cookies made with butter, flour, sugar and so forth. Nothing fancy at all but always good, and the sort of thing that immediately zips me back to her kitchen, time spent with her. I pulled out her recipe and sought to reimagine it a bit: could I use marzipan instead of vanilla? could I make them just a tad less dense by switching from all-purpose flour to a combination of cake and whole wheat pastry? What about making them more literally TEA cakes by adding some loose tea? All of these ideas came to fruition beautifully, deliciously, and I think Aunt Da would have enjoyed these. Hers were always wonderful but these are truly lovely too. I'll post both recipes for you soon.