Finding Memories, and Mom’s Sewing Materials in a Reused Cookie Tin

He was a tweet Heard around the internet. Two images, side-by-side: two royal blue Royal Gdansk tins, filled with sugar-studded butter cookies in white wrappers, next to a similar tin with a far less flashy assortment of buttons and thread. The bottom of the first image reads, “My fall plans.” Under another, “Delta version.”

Tweet in August, which followed a popular meme About the pandemic gloom, garnering over half a million likes and 75,000 retweets. writer, film critic Carlos Aguilari, was surprised to learn that she had gained a universal experience: reimagining a Royal Gdansk tin as a sewing kit, and to the dismay of all the children who opened one.

Aguilar, 32, who grew up in Mexico City and lives in Los Angeles, said, “This thing I thought was a very specific and distinctive thing to be Latin and to be Mexican has become a global phenomenon.”

Food can inspire strong emotions. And sometimes the container it comes in can cause an even stronger reaction. Royal Gdansk tins, Cool Whip tubs, Dannon yogurt containers and Bonne Maman jam jars – all belonging to an unofficial hall of fame of receptacles that have been redeployed for myriad uses, give them countless lives and often with the special meaning that whatever transcends they were in the first place.

When Folu Akinkuotu sees a Royal Gdansk tin, she doesn’t think of cookies, but of the time her mother taught her to sew on a button. Country Crock’s taupe tub spread, with its nostalgic rendition of a barn, reminded her of how her family used them to store leftover jollof rice and agusi stew.

The Country Crock container proved particularly functional, said Akinkuotu, 31, who lives in Boston and writes a newsletter about snacks called unbreakable. “It wasn’t fading after it went through the dishwasher, even if it was microwaved multiple times, or it was passed from family to family.”

“I have a relationship with the container,” she declared, “not the product itself.”

In the past few years, perhaps inspired by the home spirit of the coronavirus pandemic, these containers have become pop-culture totems. in 2020 Pixar Film “Soul” A Royal Gdansk cookie tin containing sewing supplies sits in the tailor shop of the protagonist’s mother. while making dosa Together in video of 2019, actresses Mindy Kaling and Kamala Harris (then presidential candidate) agreed on how their parents stored condiments in Testers’ Choice instant-coffee jars. In October, novelist Rachel Khong will launch a podcast called “trash/treasureEach episode will focus on how a specific container is made, and how it is reused.

On social media, reincarnations have become part of cultural discourse, as people realize that what they thought was a quirk of their particular community or generation is far more widespread.

There’s no limit to what can be changed for a new purpose: purple drawstring bags to hold Scrabble tiles, Folgers coffee cans for Crown Royal whiskey, Altoids tins for extra change, nuts and bolts.

Few companies are well aware of the appeal of their containers. Country Crock’s Instagram page teaches how to turn an empty tub into one bird feeder Or Base for Gingerbread House. There’s a post on Dannon’s growing an herb garden In a yogurt cup. But representatives from those two companies and Royal Gdansk said their packaging was not intentionally designed to be reused.

Jonathan Asher has worked in package design and research for more than three decades. He said that when consumers in focus groups only talked about how they could reuse a container, “that was the kiss of death.”

“It doesn’t get people to buy the product if the benefits are only ‘I can put a button in this pack.’ “

The American packaged-food industry as we know it emerged in the late 19th century. By the time of the Great Depression, reusing store-bought containers had become a popular means of saving money and growing food, Mr. Asher said. For many people today, old containers are a reminder of frugal, more resourceful times.

Deva Hazarika, 49, Said that when he was growing up in Houston, he didn’t know of many families that bought Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or other brand-name storage products. As for food containers, he said, there were only a handful that were well designed and widely available, and came with an affordable product.

Mr. Hazarika, who has founded several business software start-ups in San Francisco, loved Royal Gdansk Tins, which he called its “faux elegance” and “classy” script. He used them to store school supplies; Even if they move around in his bag, the lid will stay on.

Home sewing kits are the most popular use for cookie tins. The practice became common during World War II, when people were encouraged to reuse materials as much as possible, a spokesman for Royal Gdansk said.

but marina fangoThe 28-year-old, a HuffPost reporter, said her family learned that wood-eared mushrooms in tight-sealing tins stay fresh longer after purchase.

The family of 42-year-old Megha Desai found the tin just the right size to store the papad. And they weren’t the only containers reused in the Boston-area home where she grew up: Dannon yogurt tubs could hold “two to three portions of lentils,” and several could fit in the refrigerator at once. could, he said. Nescafe instant-coffee jars put into service for chai masala. The lentils were kept in a jar of Vlasik pickles. (Ms. Desai, who now lives in New York City and heads the non-profit Desai Foundation, could not understand why her family had so many jars of pickles, yet she never ate pickles. Her mom, it turns out, had arranged for an Italian restaurant to take her empty jars.)

As a child, Leslie Stockton, 48, a teacher in Alexandria, VA, used country crock tubs to keep Play-Doh moist, and her grandfather used them for nails and screws. She recently turned a five-year-old into a planter. Unlike many other containers, she said, country crock tubs are stackable and easy to clean.

Elizabeth McMullen, 34, a publicist for biological valley The dairy cooperative, recalls that Cool Whip containers were equally prized for their versatility and robustness, at their grandparents’ home in western Wisconsin. If the containers were dropped, the lid would not fly off, she said. It was easy to write on the plastic, so her grandmother could label the leftovers. And while there were no labels, Ms. McMullen loved the mystery of opaque containers – Is it filled with mashed potatoes, or whipped cream?

Not all containers carry the mass market recognition of Cool Whip containers or Royal Gdansk tins. But they can still hold special meanings.

Christina Valle, a publicist in Boston, feels the same way about the Donna Maria mole jar, which her grandmother used as a drinking glass. “It looks like a fancy crystal glass” once the labels are removed, she said. When she was little, drinking one of the lemonades always made her feel like an adult.

Her grandmother died three years ago, but her family still has the jars. “I’m allergic to nuts, so I can’t really have sesame seeds,” she said, but “it brings back those happy memories of her.”

Ms. Vale, 30, used to be embarrassed about her grandmother’s obsession with reusing containers. “It suggests that maybe you didn’t have a certain social status,” she said. Now, she is proud of it, as is the other people she sees posting on the internet.

Ms. Akinkuotu, who writes the snack newsletter, says she and many others her age have learned that it’s not only her family who reuse packages. “I think especially as millennials, we like to think that all of our experiences are very unique,” she said. “There aren’t many of them.”

Country Crock Tub: The reusable containers he and his age are more recent vintage than Crofter’s jam jars, Talenti gelato cups or Classico pasta sauce jars. But containers like the Country Crock remind her of a bygone era—when pastels and minimalism weren’t the dominant product aesthetic, and exposure to corporate misogyny before the exposure overly complicated the concept of brand loyalty.

“You can’t remember the actual experience of eating those items,” she said. “But interacting with those brands and having a relationship with a brand,” as she once did, “you remember it in a weirdly capitalist way.”

Eric Rivera, 39, who owns Seattle restaurant Edo, traces his love affair with a brand back to childhood, when his mother used a Country Crock container to store sofrito. “Every time I see anything at a Country Crock, I still think about it, there’s food in there that’s dope.” he said. “I don’t know much now what that means.”

For all the warm feelings they evoke, these containers are not necessarily vessels of pure virtue. Some are not recyclable, and the plastics that make many of them last so long harming global ecosystems. Brian Orlando, Chief Marketing Officer of North America upfieldThe company that makes Country Crock says the company is trying to come up with eco-friendly paper packaging for diffusion that can still be reused.

As traditional containers disappear, people may become even more passionate about them, as are old Pyrex bowls and vinyl records.

Mr. Rivera bought several Royal Gdansk butter-cookie tins on eBay when he opened Edo in 2018, so he could incorporate memories of his childhood into the dining experience. Each time, he ends a tasting menu by placing a tin in front of each guest. They open the tin to find a sugar-cookie-flavored dessert, like ice cream.

But there is no sweet in a tin. Inside are sewing supplies.

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