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FOOD & DRINK

Proust’s Madeleine cakes started life as toast

Uncovered manuscripts suggest the famous little French sponge cakes known as "Madeleines", that were made famous by writer Marcel Proust, actually began life as toasted bread.

Proust's Madeleine cakes started life as toast
Madeleines started life as toast, would you believe. Photo: AFP

The “madeleines” — little French sponge cakes — that writer Marcel Proust made famous in his book “In Search of Lost Time” might actually first have been toasted bread, according to uncovered manuscripts published in France on Thursday.

A first draft of Proust's huge novel dating from 1907 had the author reminiscing not about madeleines — a sensory trigger for a childhood memory about his aunt — but about toasted bread mixed with honey.

A second draft, the manuscripts showed, had the evocative edible as a biscotto, a hard biscuit.

It was only in the third draft that Proust wrote that he had bitten into a soft little madeleine.

A Paris publishing house, Saint-Peres, showed the shifting food reference in three handwritten manuscripts by Proust that it will print into a special three-part notebook set for retail.

The madeleine anecdote is considered one of the key passages in “In Search of Lost Time” (known as “A la recherche du temps perdu” in French) and underlines the work's major theme of involuntary memory, in which an experience such as an aroma or a taste unexpectedly unlocks a past recollection.

Proust is considered one of France's most influential authors of the 20th century and the French today still use the expression “Proust's madeleine” to refer to a sensory cue that triggers a memory.

“These three never-before-seen notebooks allow one to retrace the literary genealogy of the most emblematic moment of the Proustian universe,” the Saint-Peres company said in a statement.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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