Food is so many things. It is nourishment. It is connection with others, with the earth, with our bodies. And food is childhood. Deep in the learning curve of this blogging endeavor, my brain is all widgets and gadgets and html and links these days (when I’m not obsessing over how to best photograph an artichoke). And it occurred to me there was this strange link between certain foods and childhood memories. You think of a food, and click, you’re back in your mother’s kitchen, with its smells, its feel. Not just a cerebral memory, a very visceral one. Well, when I see white asparagus, click, my brain goes right back to Sunday lunches at my mother’s apartment. The spring. The cool weather. The radishes. The cream sauce.
Marcel Proust wrote a vastly more eloquent version of this idea in In Search of Lost Time, in the famous Madeleine scene, where taking a bite out of the little French cakes brings him back to his childhood:
“[…] When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”
I just love the idea that taste and smell are “souls”… I suppose my goal is to be creating lots of originating links in Pablo’s brain when cooking for him, imprinting tastes and smells he will click back to, later in life. A way to leave a mark as a parent, strangely.
So Proust had Madeleines, and I have (among other things) asparagus. White asparagus, to be precise. Yes, I know. They make your pee smell weird. But their flavor and texture are so unique (and so different from their green cousin). My mother prepared them lukewarm, in a creamy sauce. With fresh tarragon.
I have adapted my mother’s recipe for Pablo (and us as well), to make it on the healthier side, using sheep’s milk yogurt instead of cream.
It makes a great finger food (a bit messy with the creamy sauce… but messy is the word of the hour… or year). And it is a wonderful opportunity to familiarize baby with the flavor of tarragon. I cannot think of a happier (tastier) place for tarragon to be!
The contrast between the warm asparagus and cold cream sauce is something interesting and new for baby, and the texture of white asparagus is very unique as well. It’s healthy, tasty and pretty to look at… Nourishment and sensory experience, two for the price of one!
10 thoughts on “Asparagus … or the meaning of food”
What a lovely idea and you are so right, food can be very evocative of past times.
Thanks so much for commenting, Jacqueline! Yes, I find myself reminiscing every time I think of a new food to post! 🙂
Lovely writing, I think food is so much more than just sustenance, and indeed, many times, it's a way to remind me of home, of growing up and it brings with it more than just the edible– family, friends and fun.
Thank you so much. Yes, absolutely, it is so much more, I like the way you put it. Somehow thinking of writing for this blog, I'm realizing how much that is true… 🙂
I love asparagus and I love tarragon but bizarrely I have never tried them together. That's going to change now. And thanks for entering this beautiful recipe into July's Herbs on Saturday blog challenge – it's perfect.
Thank you so much for your comment! It is a tasty spring and summer appetizer! Looking forward to following the Herbs on Saturday challenge! 🙂
Hi, I'm dropping by via Herbs on Saturday. This looks like an amazingly easy but delicious dish. Perfect for both kids and adults.
Hi Mich, thanks so much for stopping by! Yes, definitely an easy, healthy and yummy appetizer.
Loved this sauce. I used 1 teaspoon dried tarragon instead of fresh. I also added 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (was a little to tart), pinch of salt and pinch of pepper! I put the leftovers on my mashed potatoes…..amazing!!!!!
Hi Helene! 🙂 I'm about 4.5 years late on this – so I hope you still check your blog! I am deeply entrenched in your blog. I have an 11 month old and my husband and I are francophiles. We've visited paris and fell in love there. Actually, our son was conceived there! 🙂 Anyway, I've read Bringing up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything and want to incorporate your four course meal recommendations into our daily life, but I'm overwhelmed. I come from an Italian background and am desiring the French method 🙂 Can you tell me of a good beginner cookbook (or do you have a cookbook that is coming out that I could get my hands on?) I need the basics, such as…all the purees you make…a lot of them say potato. Is it common for the French to make purees with potato much of the time? Can you give a basic recipe for that and is it plain russet potatoes? I want to really give our family a chance at this but feel overwhelmed on how to cook this way (because it's so foreign to me!). Thanks for any recommendations and help! I'm scouring your blog to learn as much as I can! A Bientot!