Scent - Hidden in old tin boxes

Scent - Hidden in old tin boxes

By
Chui Lee Luk
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702407
Photographer
Chris Chen

The sight of old biscuit tins fills me with nostalgia. I suspect they conjure up similar emotions in anyone brought up in a place or age when tin boxes were the most efficient way to store and carry fragile items. At Claude’s the various pastry chefs I’ve worked with have also mused about the sentimental, and perhaps not totally practical, way we’ve stored tuiles and pastries in biscuit tins, passed on from chef to chef.

When I was a child in Malaysia, biscuits were transported from Britain, continental Europe and the United States by cargo ship. They travelled in tin boxes, themselves packed into larger boxes and stowed in containers. We saw quite an array of biscuit tins of varying sizes and designs (and still do in the grocery stores in town). Wafer biscuits, water crackers, butter cookies, those oh-so-rare chocolate or chocolate-filled biscuits, all stacked neatly and deliberately in boxes. There could be quite misleading designs on the tins, with the contents revealed only when we’d peeled away the transparent sticky tape (much too much of it) that sealed the gap where the lid joined the base. We’d pull off the lid and be hit by a strong waft of the scent of these objects contained so long in their airtight home: a buttery, sweet smell. Then, the sight of them: butter cookies in a multitude of shapes, in multiple layers of fluted papers.

The most intriguingly shaped tins were tall and square with round lids.The memory associated with the opening of these tins comes from my very early years: some adult, probably my father, cleaved open the tin with a butter knife. The smell that I remember is of something dry, one-dimensional, biscuity but not holding much promise. What was inside wasn’t so interesting when I was looking for a sweet fix (they were water crackers and, for me, the association was that they were eaten when I was sick and seen to require ‘a plain diet’).

My memories of old tin boxes are fuelled by how they were used after the commercially manufactured biscuits were consumed. Imagine turning up to visit a beloved aunt or grandmother and being presented with a well-worn biscuit tin that you’re invited to open. The labelling on the tin no longer bears any relation to what the contents might be. That moment always brought me such open delight, for the only thing one could expect was to be happily surprised. And then, the rush of displaced air as the lid is quickly removed and the release of the delicious scent: salty and sweet fermented bean curd cookies, pineapple tarts, coconut cookies, walnut cookies or the pastries I used to find the most intriguing, the delicate scrolls known as ‘love letters’.

Recipes in this Chapter

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