Welcome to Stories From Scratch!
Proust may have discovered the notion of taste memory when he bit into that madeleine, but what happens when you actually bake the madeleine?
There isn’t a single time when I walk into my kitchen to prepare a favorite recipe that I do not run through a catalogue of times when I have cooked it before. What was the occasion, who was there, from whom did I get the recipe? And not least, who was I at that moment in time? These are my constant companions as I chop or sauté or simmer. I love all these memories that keep me company in the kitchen. Somehow or other they make the act of cooking a collective endeavor. As I stand at the counter or stove, congregating around me is a host of ghostly friends and family who at one time or another were present to eat what I am preparing again right now.
For any given recipe, there must be hundreds upon hundreds of stories associated with it; each of us cooks adding a new chapter before we pass it along in a kind of unbroken chain letter. If a recipe could talk, what would it tell us about all those who came before us? And what would it reveal about us?
Brillat-Savarin, the early 19th century French gastronome, famously wrote, “Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are,” but he might have just as easily written “Tell me what you cook and I shall tell you who you are.” What we cook reveals a great deal about who we are.
My name is Penny Pleasance. I’m a former banker and recovering New Yorker and have been a cooking enthusiast since I picked up my mother’s copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1978. While working on my banking career I studied cooking under Henri-Étienne Lévi at his New York cooking school, La Cuisine Sans Peur and have also taken classes in Brussels and Tuscany.
I have been a reviewer for New York Journal of Books since 2010. Read Penny Pleasance reviews on New York Journal of Books.