A few year ago, I was sitting on the train leafing through an issue of the Australian food magazine Donna Hay, when I came across an article about her (Donna's) collection of vintage wrapped sugar cubes. It caught my eye for a number of reasons--my never ending fascination with all things old and vintage, of course--but also because of the sheer delicate beauty of each little package.
They looked like tiny presents, wrapped delicately in logoed papers, a bevy of colors, patterns, and vintage fonts. Some were decorated with florid line illustrations; others boasted the name of the cafe, hotel, or even train line. These were served in cafe and restaurants for many years, particularly in Europe, but were slowly replaced once companies figured out a way to package granulated sugar. They're still used in some cafes in France and other parts of Europe, but they are becoming more and more rare as time goes on. New versions can also be purchased online--mostly for the purpose of use with absinthe.
The whole idea captured me and I remember racing home that day to check ebay for some of my own. I stopped myself, though. Life in New York City is already an endless battle against tiny pests; no need to encourage them with a collection of ancient sugar (regardless of how pretty).
So I pulled myself away and went on with things, but the idea popped back up again earlier this year when I was playing around with homemade sugar cubes. I suddenly realized that I could easily make my own wrapped sugar cubes--an unexpected and elegant touch to a tea party or bridal shower. I also like the idea of just making up a bunch to keep in your regular sugar bowl--the "house sugar," so to speak. I remember reading in Jonathan Adler's book that he and his partner keep personalized matchbooks and cocktail napkins on hand as a novelty item for guests--and idea that I've always kind of loved.
So I made up a batch of Alejandra+Eugene sugar, inspired by the design of the Tate+Lyle packets I saw online. To make them, I just created a design on Illustrator and printed it out on thin paper (use the thinnest paper you can find--it'll be easier to wrap).
Is this a super fussy project? Totally. But it's not hard and the results are kind of adorable and really do open it up to lots of variations. Some other suggestions? Use patterned or colored wrapping paper or tissue paper, use parchment paper and twist the sugar into it in a candy wrapper style, or use a stamp to hand stamp paper with a date or name or design and then cut and wrap.
Check out this amazing Flickr album which features photos of vintage wrapped sugar cubes. I also loved this photo that features a whole collection of them.
To make your own:
If you'd like to recreate this project yourself, I suggest you start by creating a canvas on Illustrator that's 2 1/2" high by 2" wide (each sugar cube is 1/2" and I allotted two sugar cubes per package). The main logo should be 1" by 1/2" and should be placed 1/2" from the bottom with 1/2" on each side and 1 1/2" on top. Or you can do a print or design that repeats over the entire canvas. I then saved it as a pdf and printed it out scaled at 100%, 9 to a page.
I wrapped lined the sugar cubes up and wrapped each pair like a tiny present, securing the edges with tiny bits of clear tape. These will keep forever so you can make them in advance. (The wrappers can also be reused.)
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