A La Recherche Du Pain Perdu
The madeleine holds an iconic position in the world of French bakery. So important is it that Napoleon erected a church in Paris in its honour. And for Marcel Proust eating it was the jumping off point for a rambling seven volume, 1.5 million words – a novel responsible for most lost time than perhaps any other.
For Nigel Slater, toast holds is similar status. Though I read and thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography (entitled “Toast”), I enjoyed the movie (for which the producers came up with the startlingly original title – “Toast”) more. True, the movie did rather overplay the way that Nigel was light on his loafers from a surprisingly early age – though omitted the episode where he becomes a rentboy in Piccadilly. There were also things that didn’t seem right. Did he really cook tinned spaghetti bolognese in 1967? I didn’t think that the Elizabeth David effect had reached Wolverhampton so soon – and certainly not in canned form. And the cookery book with large pictures that he studied (I think, by Marguerite Patton) – did cookery books of that era have such glossy images? I remember a battered copy of The Daily Telegraph Cookbook by “Bon Viveur” (Fanny and Johnny Cradock’s nom-de-plume) from about that era – plain and picture-free. (That cookbook holds the record for the most disgusting dish I’ve ever attempted to eat: ox liver soaked in milk to make it, allegedly, taste like duck. Absolutely vile.) Didn’t the glossy cookbook start with Robert Carrier? (“Great Dishes of the World” was published 1967.) And would a schoolboy (Slater’s friend) have used such profane language at that time? I went to a primary school in the middle of a cluster of large council estates yet didn’t encounter such language until later in life.
But, small gripes aside, for me it was just wonderfully evocative. Slater is two years older than I, so much of his history is my history. The cream and green colour scheme of the kitchen was just à propos, the nasty plastic cups used at picnics on the beach so familiar (though they didn’t have the canvas windbreaker that seemed an indispensible part of any beach outing in my childhood), the crimpelene dresses, the looooong dried spaghetti (how I remember the blue paper packets of “Lily Brand” spaghetti), the vile school milk (probably Thatcher’s sole act of kindness in her entire life was to snatch milk from the hands of schoolchildren – that said, she’s not dead yet so there’s still time, but I won’t be holding my breath), the heavy NHS glasses frames, the cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks (though they should have been stuck into a grapefruit wrapped in aluminium foil, rather than a pineapple).
It’s only January, but this is probably my favourite film of the year.
Footnote: when I came up with the title for this posting I was really pleased with myself. I thought I was being original. However, Google is not my friend, and reveals that a quarter of a million other sites have used the same pun. Bah!!!