When I was little and my grandmother was still a young and energetic seventy-something, she came to our house for lunch every Sunday. Now that I am older I’m guessing that this tradition must have been a bit of a strain on the adults from time to time (surely lazing around in your pajamas till noon must have been a tempting occupation too), but to us little girls, this very regularity made it comforting and blissful: le dimanche, Mamy déjeune à la maison.
Every Sunday, my mother would cook the meal — my favorite was her roasted chicken with pommes de terre sautées and baguette to dip in the juices — and my grandmother would bring dessert, bought at her trusted pâtisserie on the rue Poncelet. A St-Honoré (the best I’ve ever had), a Fraisier, a Paris-Brest, a special fall cake decorated with huge nougatine mushrooms that was strictly reserved for my father’s birthday, or assorted individual versions of the aforementioned, which we would share so everyone had a couple bites of each. Except for the baba au rhum because yuck!, said the little girls.
I’m not sure if this was actually the case, but I seem to remember that my grandmother never failed to bring each of her grand-daughters a gift. Sometimes it was a toy — a small teddy bear, a little notebook with matching pencil, a mini sewing-kit in a pink plastic case — and sometimes it was, oh joy of joys, un sujet en pâte d’amande: a little sculpture made of marzipan. Animals, characters, objects, fruits, vegetables, we loved them all: intricately decorated and colorful, they were just like toys, only edible, and pâte d’amande was one of my favorite things in the whole world.
The only problem was that they were so pretty it was very difficult to eat them. An additional challenge was to avoid eating all of mine before my sister had eaten hers, otherwise she still had some and I didn’t, which did not bear considering. And so I think I was sometimes guilty of letting them collect dust on a shelf in our bedroom — or in the drawer of my little desk, where I also stashed my half-eaten nutella sandwiches for later, and promptly forgot about them.
And so it is really a bit of childhood that my parents brought me back from Avignon recently, in the form of this assortment of marzipan fruits — orange, lemon, lime, apple, pear, plum and grapes. What grapes, you ask? Oh yes, the grapes are sadly missing from the family picture, because um, something terrible happened to them before I could take a snapshot.