My friend Alan has just finished reading Marcel Proust’s novel À la Recherche du Temps Perdu better know to me as “Remembrance of Things Past”. This completion is a feat. Why? Because and I quote from Wikipedia, “À la recherche du temps perdu consists of seven volumes totaling around 3,200 pages (about 4,300 in The Modern Library’s translation) and featuring more than 2,000 characters.” I did mention I would write something about the connection of art and food. The novel has as its core theme “involuntary memory”, that is the specific memories that are spontaneously triggered in the main character when he eats a particular food. The food in question is a little, French cake called the Petit Madeleine.
Yes, as a student I did actually try to read the first book, but only managed a few pages and put it down never to resume reading it again. Alan’s advice to me is, “Don’t read it”. (Good call.) Now, about those Petit Madeleines, let’s not lose any time! These are little scallop shaped sponge “cakes” that are cooked in a specially shaped pan. They are light and can either have ground nuts or lemon zest for flavor. Best of all they can be dipped in chocolate!
Here’s a link to a recipe from The Joy of Baking online: Petit Madeleine. There’s some history and variations to the recipe.
Cathy, a long time friend of mine, made Madeleines for her daughter Chloe’s going away to France party, years ago. When Cathy, who has French roots, removed them from the oven, in front of my eyes, I knew I was in the presence of a special food. Until that time, I only knew of the reference from Proust’s writing about these cakes. Eating them was a petit revelation. That was my first time. I was amazed that anyone would attempt such a feat of making the famous Madeleine. (Baking is mysterious.)
In recognition of Alan’s prodigious capacity to conquer the words of Proust – Congratulations, Alan! And to Cathy who actually introduced me to the real Madeleine, Merci.
I hear that Starbucks serves them. Can anyone verify that?
P.S. Bill West told me that he read the Proust tome in French in college. It took him several months and his French dictionary “disintegrated” at the end of it from looking up idioms. (Okay, that’s amazing!)
What food made you remember something pleasant?
 Retrieved August 19, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Proust.