This is my Grandmother’s sugar bowl. And that’s the spoon that came with it, when she purchased it sometime during the early 1920’s. The sugar it held sweetened every cup of coffee my grandfather ever had in their house in the West End of Amsterdam, and every cup my Dad, me and my four kids ever had there as well. That’s about 75 years worth of caffeinated brew for the Cinquanti family spanning four generations.
My Grandfather, who died in 1960 was the patriarch of our family’s coffee consumption habits. In his house, sugar was the first thing you put in the cup, never the last. He would always use a giant light-blue soup-bowl sized cup and it would take three spoonfuls of sugar to coat the bottom of it the way he liked it. Next came the perfectly percolated, steaming hot Eight O’Clock brew poured from my grandmother’s old black and silver pot which had to be held with one of her mopeens to keep from getting second-degree burns during the pouring process.
The volume of the pour was critical. Nobody in my family ever drank their coffee black. In fact, we all drank it very light. But none of us ever used half&half or cream. Instead it was always whole milk, poured out of glass quart bottles, which Nobby Fryc the Milkman would place in the insulated tin milk box on my grandmother’s front porch every week.
Only my grandmother and aunt were ever allowed to pour the coffee. They both had this genetically imbedded measuring system in their right wrist joint that automatically stopped pouring when the coffee was exactly three-sixteenths of an inch from the rim of an adult’s cup and precisely double that space for the cups they would pour for the younger members of the family.
The remaining vacant space was then filled with Nobby’s milk leaving exactly enough liquid ripple room to permit the cup to be slid along the smooth porcelain-topped kitchen table (now stored in my basement) to where each family member was sitting without spilling a drop. That’s when the slurping began.
It was my grandfather who taught me everything I knew about the art of slurping coffee. Once your cup was placed in front of you, you did not pick it up. You grabbed the handle and bent your head down to the rim where you proceeded to breathe in hard through your mouth not sipping but instead suctioning the hot liquid in between your lips. You sucked enough coffee out of your cup so that you could pick it up without spilling any and take the first actual sip. The objective of the sipping was simple yet essential. You needed to consume enough of the coffee out of the cup to permit you to add the next ingredient without causing the dreaded overflow.
What other ingredient did my family members add to our coffee? There were actually several possibilities. Again, it was my grandfather who established the precedents. He’d put corn flakes into that big blue cup in the morning. He would submerge about ten Royal Lunch crackers in there at lunch time and those dimpled biscuits would absorb so much of the liquid it formed a pasty, heavily sweetened gruel. At night, for desert, he’d go with at least a half-dozen Sunshine Oatmeal cookies.
I personally never did the corn flake thing but I became a devoted aficionado of both the Royal Lunch Cracker and Sunshine Oatmeal Cookie coffee stews for much of my childhood. As I mentioned earlier, the trick was not to permit a drop of the coffee in your cup from going anywhere except inside your mouth. If, you miscalculated the level of vacant space necessary to get all your crackers or cookies into the cup without spillage you’d hear my Grandfather repeat his favorite line of condemnation for a poorly executed effort, which was “God darn ya!” But if you did it just right, you’d look up toward his spot at the head of the table and he’d have a little smile on his face and you’d hear his trademark “heh-heh-heh” expression of pride and approval.
How times have changed. If I ever poured any of my grandkids a cup of coffee, their parents would disown me and if I ever put three spoonfuls of sugar into anything they drank, their Mom’s would press charges. But I do intend to show them their great great grandmother’s sugar bowl and maybe even give them the Cinquanti-family slurp lesson. Heh-heh-heh!