That’s a question that I have always asked myself.
Whenever I cook a traditional French meal, why is it that the first thing that comes to my mind is the memory of my grandmother’s food? Or why is it that when people give me their best recipe, they often tell me that it is their grandmother’s one?
Well, I think the answer is actually right there, at the back of our mind, in our subconscious.
Remember that Proust story about the madeleine? That story that talks about how every time he ate a madeleine, he would feel this exquisite pleasure? In his novel “In Search of Lost Time”, Marcel Proust actually explains that these feelings are not triggered by the madeleine he is eating which is exceptionally good but instead by what he describes by his “involuntary memory”; in this case, his Sunday mornings at Combray where his aunt Léonie used to give him a madeleine that she always dipped first in her own cup of tea or tisane.
So now that you see where I am going with this, let’s set the scene.
I grew up in the country side of France and, as many families there do, we often gathered at my grandmother’s house on big occasions (well actually it didn’t have to be that big) for dinner.
On these occasions, I would always beg my mum to drop me in the afternoon so that I could play with my cousin. We would spend the entire time playing in the garden when the weather allowed (which wasn’t so frequent being from Normandy … people in the UK, you feel me) or in the living room playing with our toys or watching our favourite Disney movie for the 500th time.
Meanwhile, my grandmother would be cooking perfuming the house with the smell of dinner and convivial atmosphere.
By the end of the afternoon, after having played with all our toys, having interrupted our grandmother countless times to get snacks, a taste of what she was cooking, snacks again and not knowing what to do with ourselves anymore, my cousin and I would sit patiently on the sofa waiting for our parents and the rest of the family to arrive.
The evening would be spent around the table with the adults listening to conversations, asking existential questions like “mum why is the sky blue”, tasting what was in their plate because it looked a lot better than what was in ours and making the show until it was time to go to bed.
I am quite fond of these memories and I think it is a fair assumption to make that most of us have these memories of our past that come back each time we eat or drink something.
So when someone tells me that it is their grandmother’s recipe, I think that what it actually means is that this person is sharing happiness with me. They are not sharing a taste but a memory, something that makes them feel good.
Do you agree? Do you also have memories of your past that food makes you think of? Share your thoughts!