‘No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin… And suddenly the memory revealed itself… The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.’ —Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
This Thursday morning in Bath began with a very unique experience. For those who are not familiar with the above French anecdote, Proust’s madeleine (a small traditional French sponge cake) dipped in tea inspires a nostalgic incident and takes him back to l’heure de goûter (French snacktime) of his childhood in the town of Combray. This morning I experienced an episode of this sort, although the madeleine was substituted with freshly baked tartines and Speculoos spread.
This delight provoked memories from my vie française in the Loire city of Nantes where I spent seven months teaching English whilst discovering French cuisine and the wines of the Loire. Upon wandering the city one Sunday morning, we discovered a true treasure… in the form of a biscuit spread! Bizarre it may sound, but this Belgian originated treat should not be overlooked! Hard to describe, this spread has the consistency of Nutella yet the taste of caramelised Lotus biscuits that often accompany coffee (once again evoking happy memories of taking the bus to Ramsbottom for my childhood coffee outings with Grandma!).
This Sunday ritual in Nantes perfectly illustrates the concept of eating as an experience. Les petites anglaises (English girls) would amble down to our favourite salon de thé, Tabl’O Gourmand, with its rustic wooden tables and walls lined with glass cabinets overflowing with jars containing everything you could possibly imagine in the form of a spread. Ordering pâtes à tartiner consists of a large basket of freshly baked baguettes and an array of spreads, the personal highlight being Speculoos. Whether it was a lazy Sunday afternoon with a book, a couple of hours catching up with the girls, or appreciating Nantes as a tourist with those who came to visit, this experience never failed to please!
Back to reality, this morning my Speculoos was unfortunately not enjoyed in a French café, but in the equally pleasant sanctuary of a fellow student’s room. Toby has transformed his domain into a tranquil haven, complete with throws and cushions from the East and photographs of his experiences in Africa, and inspiring images of my own experiences in various ‘salons de thé’ of Morocco, drinking mint tea whilst observing the hustle and bustle of the fascinating daily life in Marrakech…
Again, back to reality… evidently taste is a powerful thing… taking the imagination to other times in one’s life… to other countries… even to other worlds… and all before 11am on a Thursday morning in Bath… Merci Speculoos!