Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tea-time memories.

Today, November 16 …

The first volume of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” was published on this day in 1913. In his novel, the sudden fragrance of a small French cake called a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, evokes the flood of memories on which the story is based. Proust knew instinctively what scientists have now proven: that the sense of smell is an enormously powerful trigger of memory.

It is probably the best known piece of gastronomic literary prose in the world, and so beautiful that it is almost impossible to read it without wanting to rush out and find some madeleines and linden (lime-blossom) tea to try to capture the experience for oneself. Alas, the association between memory and its triggers are far too personal, but in case you want to try anyway, the recipes follow.

A madeleine is simply an ordinary small cake, its only differentiation from any other being that it is baked in a shell-shaped mould, making it not ordinary at all, for this small difference makes this small cake special and elegant and romantic. The most famous are from Commercy in France, and Larousse gives a recipe:

Madeleine de Commercy.

Work together in a bowl 625 gm of fine sugar, 625 gm sieved cake flour; 12 eggs; 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda; the grated rind of a lemon; a pinch of salt.
When this mixture is very smooth, add to it 300 gm melted butter. Mix well.
Put this mixture in special buttered madeleine moulds. Bake in a very slow oven.

It probably does not seem necessary to give a recipe for tea, but Charles Elmé Francatelli (an Englishman in spite of his name), saw fit to include one in his “Cook’s Guide” (1867), and who am I to argue with the chef to Queen Victoria? Anyway, the medical advice at the end might come in handy if the memories you trigger in your experiment are scary ones.

Lime-Flower Tea.

To half an ounce of lime-flowers pour one pint of boiling water; allow the tea to stand for about ten minutes, pour it into a cup, sweeten with honey, and drink it perfectly hot.
This tea, from its antispasmodic quantities, is a safe remedy in cases of indigestion, and is also beneficial when administered for hysteria.

Tomorrow …The Clerical Gourmet.

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