Prompt Images

My nonna is an incredible cook. At 93, this tiny Italian woman shows no signs of stopping her reign of dominance in the kitchen, stemming all the way back to my childhood. Despite her current inability to walk, over winter break, she criticized our pizzelle-making with a heavy hand. Growing up, we ate her homemade pasta, sauce, sausage, ham soup, pastina, meatballs. If it was Italian, you name it, my nonna made it, and we ate it.

Pizzelles as far as the eye can see #nonnashelpers

A post shared by Erin Vail (@vailerin) on

I suppose I can blame my nonna for my intense love of food.

This love goes far beyond the joy of eating. I also enjoy talking about food, taking pictures of my food, and am constantly planning at least two meals ahead. I’m always packing snacks for day trips, my recipes folder in Google Chrome is insane, and I’ll always watch a BuzzFeed Tasty video. Also, I can’t help but go hard with a good cheese platter, dip, or slow cooker meal. We all gotta eat, but I want to eat often and WELL.

I love dessert, like most sane humans, but in general, I’d rather have an extra helping of my entree than double-down on dessert. I suppose my nonna conditioned me to favor savory over sweet flavors. In fact, we always had fruit after dinner at Nonno and Nonna’s, and if we weren’t full, THEN we could have dessert.

There are two notable exceptions to this pattern. The first is donuts. My love for donuts is historic, and well-documented on my Instagram (plug). The second is from a little company called Keebler.

I’m talking about the classic E.L. Fudge cookies.

These things are buttery, sweet, and chocolatey, and you can eat ten at a time because they’re so light. They’re shaped like the Keebler Elves—even carrying little signs with their names, like “Ernie” and “Fast Eddie”—which makes eating them a little bit morbid. But who can resist the perfect ratio of cookie to chocolate filling?

el fudge

Beyond their sweet, but also biscuit-y taste, these cookies have a special place in my heart from the person who introduced these magical morsels into my life. Nonna.

When my sister Shannon and I were little, we loved visiting my nonno and nonna’s, not just for the novelty of seeing where my mom grew up, or for the home cooking. Together, we celebrated a secret, irreverent rebellion—we got to eat these cookies (!) for breakfast.

I loved the smile on Nonna’s face when she pulled them out of the cupboard, the sound the plastic package made when we tore them open, and the shared feeling of mischief with Shannon that we were breaking the rules: having COOKIES with CHOCOLATE for breakfast!

This simple, weirdly American tradition stuck out to me from all of the overwhelmingly Italian ones—maybe it was because it was a silly treat, maybe because it made my sister and I so happy. But whenever I see those slightly greasy, super delicious cookies, my mind brings me right back to Nonna.

Over Christmas, my sister and I reintroduced this tradition into our lives.

We gave our little nephews, who had slept over at my mom’s, some E.L. Fudge cookies for breakfast of their very own. I felt that sense of joyous nostalgia—becoming the adult, but not really—passing on the goofy, mischievous smiles. Not to mention, it felt pretty good to bite the head off a Keebler Elf again.

Since Christmas, I’ve been thinking about our different family memories and traditions, most of which revolve around food. We have a “Feast of the Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve (which ends up being six—five fish in my mom’s cioppino, and one is the baccala that I never eat). My mom makes pintenqusas, Italian spiral cookies with honey and raisins. A lot of these traditions stem from our heritage, from my nonna.

And it’s hard to think about heritage without thinking about where you came from, in a very literal sense.

And even harder to think about it in today’s political climate without clenching your fists and jaws in frustration. How can we forget who we are?

My nonno and nonna immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. They brought with them my two aunts, who were just young children when they arrived. My mom was born in Reading, PA in 1967, the first of her immediate family to be born American. It strikes me as sweet symmetry that Godfrey Keebler, founder of the Keebler bakery, was a German immigrant, whose story is not much different than ours.

So many traditions, customs, and cookies come from people who came to America seeking opportunity. And every day, as I read the news of xenophobic immigration policy, I see that opportunity being taken away from certain people. And it hurts so much I want to bite someone’s head off. Better luck next time, Fast Eddie. You’re just so delicious.

I cherish my E.L. Fudge cookie memories, and I have truly loved sharing them with my nephews. I hope that future families are as lucky as we are, and will get the chance to make wholesome American memories of their own. Except, maybe with a healthier breakfast option—seriously, these cookies are just FILLED with chemicals and sugars and syrups (and love).

Erin Vail

Erin is the 2003 West Reading Elementary Geography Bee champion, a TV obsessive, and never not thinking about Buffalo sports.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more