Proust Pickles

I have a recipe index card in my collection from Marcel Proust.

You know those pre-printed recipe index cards? They were made especially to help the home cook organize recipes, to be stored in a little box made to fit the size of the card – an early form of the database. They were often decorated with charming old-fashioned drawings of cast iron stoves, fat bellied pots, cornucopias of vegetables, and the like. Then there were lines for “Recipe…”, “Serves…”, “From the kitchen of…” and the rest left blank for filling in the instructions. I’m afraid, like computer floppy disks, cassette tapes and VHS videos, recipe index cards can probably now be classed as dead media.

My recipe index card from Marcel Proust is actually from my Polish-American uncle who, when writing out his family’s recipe for Polish dill pickles, left the line on the card “Recipe from the kitchen of” blank. I remember asking him why he didn’t fill it in and he replied – with a mischievous grin – that it was from the kitchen of Marcel Proust. I must have been in my early teens at the time and this left me completely baffled.

pickles

Years later (and more literate), I could only think that the reason behind that attribution was because Marcel Proust, French author (1871-1922), famously captured the connection between food and memory in his novel Remembrance of Things Past (original French, À la recherche du temps perdu).

It also dawned on me that the concept –  sensual memories of tastes, scents, textures of food – is a major influence on this blog. Memories of food embody where we came from, what we’ve experienced and reflect our interactions with others by incorporating their experiences and traditions into our own. A new take on the saying “You are What You Eat”.

This is a multi-cultural concept.  A number of years back, we attempted to find international films on DVD that embodied the idea of memory and food: Like Water for Chocolate (Mexican), Babette’s Feast (Danish), Eat Drink Man Woman (Chinese), Chocolat (French), A Touch of Spice (Greek) and Mostly Martha (German). And, I’m sure there are more.

At some time in the future I’ll share the recipe for Polish Dill Pickles “from Marcel Proust” when cucumbers are plentiful, fresh and crisp.

Meanwhile, I will continue to share my food experiences, from my past, from newer experiences, and from techniques, traditions and tastes I’ve shared with others.

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8 comments

  1. You must rent “Big Night.” It’s my favorite food movie of all time — and an amazing little film to boot. It features Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub playing brothers. Delicious in every way! Loving your blog. I lived in England when I was 13 for a year and the food was sooo different but eventually it was sort of what saved me.

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    • Thank you so much for the tip about “Big Night”. I knew there were more films out there! I can see it on our “to view” list. And, yes, I agree with you, the food (etc.) here is so very different, but I’m loving embracing it and incorporating it into my own way of cooking.

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      • When I first started cooking in Britain – we hadn’t moved full-time – supermarkets were just beginning to catch on, most people still did daily shopping at the bakery, the greengrocer, the butcher, etc. Chicken – unless you specifically requested “corn fed” – tasted of the fish meal they fed the birds. Milk vans still delivered daily milk in glass pint bottles to your doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. But, those days are long gone – were virtually gone by the time we moved here permanently. However, shopping and cooking was certainly a challenge at first. The bread flour has a different gluten content, the chocolate is like European chocolate (that is, a higher cocoa solid content) and vegetable and fruit varieties are different (most significantly with potatoes and apples). There are also a range of dairy products – from skim milk (virtually no fat content) right up to clotted cream (almost entirely fat!). And, of course, with we have access to a vast variety of products and produce from the European Union. I am now used to it and certainly enjoy it. If we ever did move back to the States, it would be a challenge all over again!

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      • When we lived in the UK, it was the 1970s (late 70s, but still). My brother went off of chicken permanently because of that fishy taste (he’s almost 40 now and still won’t try it again!). I was the one who opened ALL of the new milk bottles and used the top part on my cereal before anyone else got up. 🙂 I have been there since and it’s nice to see the better variety of stuff — though I miss the individual vendors. Our greengrocer once hid contraband (non-EU permitted) Jersey potatoes for my Dad in the back of his shop, in an unmarked brown paper bag, because he knew “The guvnor loves his spuds.”

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      • What a great story! My first experiences date to the early 80s – so probably not so different from your own experience. By the time we moved permanently (the 90s) the scene had changed – though there are still independent vendors doing well.

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