One of the most profound depictions of memory in literature is immortalized in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The Madeleine Moment, as it is often called, exists in Proust’s seven-volume novel, where the narrator is swamped by memories when he dunks a madeleine, a sort of cake, into tea.
Proust’s magnum opus is fiction, but if there is an equivalent in nonfiction, it is perhaps the food memoir. If memoir relates to memory, the memory of food is one of the deepest in our lives, and as such, constitutes the staple of food memoirs.
Some of the finest food memoirs trace the authors’ gastronomic experiences and memories to childhood. Indeed, some of the greatest memoirs, not just the food autobiography, at least touch upon the authors’ earliest years.
The food writer’s seed is often sown in childhood. In her classic The Gastronomical Me, M.F.K. Fisher starts by describing her earliest memory of taste.
“The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam. I suppose I was about four.” In Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India, the stamp of taste was put on the author, Madhur Jaffrey’s tongue even earlier in life – when she was born. An elder in the family drew a shape on the new-born Jaffrey’s tongue with a finger dipped in honey to signify sweet.