In the Broadway musical version of the Addams Family, Grandma Addams tells a crestfallen Pugsley, “That’s life, kid. You lose the thing you love.” I was lucky enough to see the musical during its original 2006 run with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in the lead roles. For all the show’s silliness, this somber line about love and loss is what stuck with me.
I was reminded of it recently during a discussion of the relatively new Girl Scout cookie flavor, Savannah Smiles. They’re a crisp little lemony half-moon. Give me a box and it’s pretty much like watching someone pour powdered sugar into a wood chipper. It ain’t pretty.
Savannah Smiles, while a fine cookie, aren’t the best lemon cookies ever made. That honor goes to Jackson’s Jumbles lemon cookies (aka Lemon Jumbles).
If you were lucky enough to grow up in the south three or four decades ago, you might remember the happy white bag with the green and red stripes. The cookies were round disks with a hole in the middle, just right for slipping the tip of your tongue into it.
The food blogger, Leslie Eats (leslieeats.com) describes them best, “They are simultaneously crisp and soft; crumbly, not chewy. And lemony without being tart and a treat without being too sweet.”
“They are simultaneously crisp and soft; crumbly, not chewy. And lemony without being tart and a treat without being too sweet.”
She also notes another important detail “It’s just not summertime in Tennessee without Lemon Jumbles.” Same goes for Arkansas; and Mississippi from what I can tell. Probably other places, too.
Regular readers may recall my fond remembrances of my great grandmother, who everyone called Big Momma. She and her husband, who everybody called Daddy Bryant were born in another age – long before cars, electricity; and in a time when rough hands fed America. My great grandparents raised three kids and made a modest home.
The Big Momma and Daddy Bryant I knew as a child were at the end of vital and long lives. They were both strong-willed and though she didn’t live to know the man I have become, I hope Big Momma would be proud of me.
I would often visit them on the way to my grandmother and grandfather’s house. When she did, the thing I remember best is the cookie jar that sat on her kitchen table. It was a white ceramic vessel covered in brightly colored cookies. For those of you who collect cookie jars, it was a Napco “cookies all over” model with a walnut finial. Big Momma’s always contained Jackson’s Lemon Jumbles.
I ate them all my life, even long after Big Momma had taken her rest. Of course, times change. Tastes change. The world moves on without us.
At some point in the 1990s, Jackson’s was purchased by Keebler’s. Then Keebler’s was bought out by Kellogg’s. The mercurial winds of jackbooted corporate thuggery — Tony the Tiger, I’m looking at you — just couldn’t countenance the wholesome goodness that was Lemon Jumbles. Apparently, the Kellogg’s leviathan couldn’t figure out how to monetize them into some cartooned merchandise blasphemy.
As such, the world lost Lemon Jumbles. Cue Grandma Addams. Of course, I wasn’t the only grandchild to sit at that table and eat those cookies. I have a whole bunch of cousins who could tell this same story.
I do, however, have something they don’t. Daddy Bryant lived in that house a number of years after we lost Big Momma. Then one night, the great tornado came. The old man and his house were uprooted like Dorothy, only he stayed in Arkansas, having moved about seventy-five feet east. Several of us came to help pick up. A life of small things was scattered across a damp field of blown-over grass. From the rubble, a small ceramic walnut stuck up. It was Big Momma’s cookie jar. It had a wedge knocked out of the rim but was still there and largely intact.
The jar occupies a place of veneration in my kitchen. Only now there are no Jumbles to make it whole. Full heart, empty jar. It may get warmer here, but it won’t be summer.
Note: This post was adapted from previously published material.