Shortbread

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When I was of elementary school age, I could not have told you where my family was from. Being young, my ignorance was, in some ways, understandable. Yet, at the same time, that oblivion of mine was heartbreaking. Knowing where you come from has provided people with a sense of belonging and identity throughout history. Now, at age sixteen, I know where my roots are buried. I feel a strong sense of pride in calling myself Scottish.

I used to spend long summer days at my grandparents house. It was a modest home by the lake, two hours north of the city. Up there, time moved slowly in the most beautiful way.

Each morning I woke to greet the sun and would converse silently with it for hours. One day, amidst this quiet peace, I noticed the small grooves carved into the bedside table beside me. The next morning was as sunny and tranquil as the one before, and my attention was caught by the slight flicker of the lamp that danced with the shadows of the room. As weeks went by, I became increasingly observant. I studied each delicate rose that the wallpaper bashfully offered me. I admired a small finch on the branch outside. It was like my eyes were opened. The sun that shone through the window those idle mornings gave me the ability to see the meek and unnoticed, yet starkly beautiful details of my surroundings.

In this home, I connected not only to the more minute parts of life but to life’s greatest facet as well: culture. My life was again illuminated by those same rays of sunlight.

It started on a clear Sunday long ago. My grandma had made short bread. The family raved about it, sitting on the front porch, licking every last crumb from their plate. They agreed my grandma had baked it as authentically as her mother had, a spirited woman who’d died before my birth. My grandma, beaming, ate up every compliment like they were slices of shortbread themselves.

After this, my grandma took up baking. While we were at church, a towering Presbyterian cathedral with stained glass windows, she’d rise and tie an apron around her waist. By the time we returned home at noon and kicked off our fancy shoes, she’d have proudly placed a large container of shortbread on the bare counters. The cookies were stacked in thick layers and divided with wax paper. I’d stand on my tiptoes and sneak fresh biscuits through out the day, nibbling away at the rich, crumbly bars.

At first, they did not merit a great deal of consideration. Once I rubbed the buttery residue off my fingers, the experience of eating shortbread was cleanly over, tossed to the back of my thoughts with memories of birthday cake and Christmas cookie nostalgia.

Then a school assignment led me to a Wikipedia article on shortbread. Sitting on the floor of my grandparent’s bedroom in rectangles of fallen sunlight, I studied the text.

First, I learned that shortbread was a Scottish food. By this point in my life I was vaguely aware of where my family’s heritage, so this information made sense. I tucked it into my mind. 

Second, I learned that great food has always been born out of scarcity, and shortbread was no exception. My ancestors baked this recipe through war, through rain, through poverty and strife.

The Wiki article concluded by addressing the heart of a Scot. I only skimmed this section. I didn’t need the Web to tell me that my family was a fiery people with blazing souls, ardent drinkers with deep-bellied laughs.

After this, every Sunday as I carefully sliced a perfect bar of shortbread, I was reminded of the recipe’s history. I’d eat painstakingly, nibbling away at the corners to savor the taste. Slowly, the significance of the food I was holding, admiring, and eating, began to solidify in my mind. Shortbread was no longer a simple desert, but instead became a slice of cultural significance. With the rays of sunlight glinting off the sugar crystals that sprinkled the cookie’s cracked surface, I could feel the Scots in my bones.

I am truly proud of where I come from. My family and I share so much more than just blood. We share our spirit, our zest, and our fundamental belief that life, along with culture, is a gift to be cherished. Under the gentle morning sun in my grandparent’s home, I learned that a simple change in lighting can affect your outlook on life. As I grew, I realized that connecting to one’s past has a similar affect on perspective— it’s the spiritual equivalent to opening the window and flooding the room with light. These days, shortbread tastes better, sweeter, more crumbly and rich. I will never go back to living carelessly, unaware of my roots and my kin. I may not have noticed the darkness during those early years of my life, but now that the sun has risen, I’ve vowed to never live to blindly again.






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