In December of 2015, one of the worst winters on record in the Northeast, my husband and I moved from Florida to Maine. In one minute we were driving beneath cloudless blue skies, salty air breezing in and out of the windows, sunlight hitting our cheeks and forearms, scarfing down saltwater taffy, and the next we were huddled against each other in the temporary housing provided by the new company where I would begin work, afraid to go outside and hike the mountains of icy snow at every curbside.

I should mention that we are both native New Yorkers, and so Florida and Maine each felt like additional stops on the Odyssey to us – strangeness and unfamiliarity at every turn. The slow pace of Maine, for example, threw us off entirely, and we found ourselves internally self-combusting as we waited in lines while friendly salespeople chatted with regulars at the register. But it was undeniably beautiful, and the first time we saw the waves crash against the cliffs at Two Lights State Park, the white surf and the cormorants and the intricate, varied textures of the rocks that invited us to climb on them like children, we decided we could stay. That was almost three years ago. Since then we have sought out, as we do on each of our adventures, the food. To us, it’s the most important part of a place, and we were determined to find the best of it.

The best of it began with a single slice of cake, so sublime that I travel an hour and a half each Saturday from Portland to Bath and back to buy it. But to explain its power, I must first talk about the madeleine, familiar to those who are fond of French tea cakes, and even more so to fans of Proust, for whom the first bite of cake so famously unleashed a rich and involuntary recall of childhood.

The far Breton.

Personally, I have never understood the appeal of the madeleine. Even those that are the most perfectly, meticulously made, do nothing for me. I find them dry, boring, and overall, a great disappointment in the otherwise glorious world of cake. Perhaps it is fear that makes me criticize them; the pleasure of eating coupled with a rush of involuntary memory frightens me. What if something I love, say, brandade de mourue, were to suddenly trigger a long-buried trauma, or if the salted goat’s milk caramels I eat daily were to unleash a parade of childhood images I have no interest in revisiting? I shudder to think of the deepest, simplest pleasure of food taking on a complicated and bitter aftertaste. But so far, it has not, and Proust’s legendary tale has remained largely unrealized.

About a year ago my boss, who lives in Bath, introduced me to the farmers market there, and more specifically, to a woman who sells a cake called “far Breton.” A far is a custardy pudding cake, with the smooth, silky texture of flan. It was born in Brittany, where it is traditionally dotted with macerated prunes and raisins. It is the close, but I would argue bolder and more precocious cousin of the clafouti, which is made with cherries and had a moment in the spotlight about a decade ago. The far Breton is neither too rich, nor too light, neither too bland, nor overly sweet. The first bite – best eaten holding the triangular slice in your hand – is a smooth, all-encompassing, rush of ingredients that seem to blend right there on your tongue and resolve just as quickly. It starts with the delicate custard, flawlessly smooth, a uniform silkiness that lasts the entire bite, then the juice from a rich, almost bittersweet prune, a crust that’s meringue-like in its lightness, a scent of vanilla perhaps more delightful than the vanilla itself, a whiff of giddiness coming off the raisins, heady and bright, and finally, the powdery dusting of confectioner’s sugar that comes and disappears just as quickly, a sort of ecstatic sweetness like the joy of extracting a droplet of honey from a honeysuckle flower right onto your tongue. This cake is not about memory; it is about the most present of presence, a meditative and mindful experience that miraculously requires no effort at all.

Beryl Sidelinger serves a piece of the far Breton, a dessert that originated in Brittany, to a customer at the Bath Farmers Market.

Putting aside memory, everything about my experience with far Breton has felt involuntary. The entirely irrational decision to spend an hour and a half in the car just to get my hands on it; the panicked call the day before market to Beryl, who makes it, to put aside several slices for me, lest the entire cake be gone before I arrive; my thrill at the way Beryl packages each piece, wrapped in wax paper and placed in a little sleeve and then a brown bag; taking the first bite in my car, powdered sugar scattered like a light snowfall around my seat, leaning back, closing my eyes, and thrilling at the taste.

What it unleashes exactly, I don’t know. But it isn’t memory. This cake takes me forward, not back. It is a weekly promise, and a reminder, of what carries me: My husband, Keith, my 1-year old son, Henry, who was not even supposed to be born given my history of an aggressive, mid-stage stomach cancer, Keith’s silly songs and Henry’s belly laugh, thoughts of what Keith and Henry and I will do this summer – stop at Two Lights State Park and watch the waves hit the rocks, stuff our cheeks with lowbush blueberries, laze on the Eastern Prom and watch Henry watch the boats.

So as I continue to eat my far Breton, I am involuntarily propelled to start the engine and drive home to my two boys, so that I can look at Keith and not have to eat anything at all to remember that he is everything, and so I can touch Henry’s soft hair and not have to remember that he is a miracle, and maybe we will all look at each other and not have to remember why we’re a family, or that we’ll always be one, and wonder how we ended up in Maine, and where this salty air will take us next, and what sweet, unique things we’ll find there.

Anna Stoessinger lives in Maine with her husband, Keith, her son, Henry, and their dog, Bess. She is a writer who works in advertising.

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