Thursday, 26 June 2008

Tastes of youth

A piece in the Guardian reflects on our taste for foods of our childhood.

It made me remember that little sweet shop at the bottom of Norwich Cathedral Close, by the kissing gate, where you could get coconut mushrooms, nut clusters, what we called 'jazzies' - white chocolate buttons with hundreds-and-thousands on. (The contrast between the meltingly soft chocolate and the crunchiness of the hundreds-and-thousands was made this sweet work.)

I've seen Dutch postgraduate students at Cambridge fighting for the last spoonful of hagelslag (the Dutch version of hundreds-and-thousands).

Childhood tastes are strong and unchangeable. I've grown to love the fig, but I still hate garibaldi biscuits and fig rolls.

And childhood names are often the best ones. Garibaldi biscuits? - Fly-and-spider slice, more like! We also hated frogspawn (tapiocoa pudding).

All these things define an English childhood. What sweets you had (sherbet fountains, anyone?), what puddings were served up, what kind of biscuits you liked or didn't like.

People I know who grew up in Scotland, or in Yorkshire, or the West Country, got different treats. Here in Norwich we had Caley's chocolate (now revived after some enterprising guys bought the brand), which I always thought was better than  Cadbury's  but not as good as Rowntree's.

Of course, we're being invaded by American brands.  Kelloggs has taken over much of Europe - though not
France, where hardly anyone I know eats cereal for breakfast . (The traditional baguette-and-jam still rules.) Marathon got renamed Snickers, though it remains one of my favourites with its mix of  peanuts and toffee.

But I hope we'll retain these little distinctions. Local brands, local sweets, local names for common things - these are all aspects of our life where one region or town distinguishes itself from another. These little differences  give our lives flavour.

And that, I suspect, is why - to answer the Guardian columnist's question - we are so excited about the biscuits of our childhood.

After all, a single snack was enough to make Proust write a multi-volume masterpiece - though that wasn't a biscuit, it was a cake.

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