Jane Jeffes is a producer and director and former head of ABC Religion & Ethics. A UK-Australian dual national she is based in Sydney, Australia.
One of the most highly regarded European novels of the 20th century is Marcel Proust’s ‘A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu’. In English, it’s called ‘In Search of Lost Time’ or ‘A Remembrance of Time Past’. It’s in seven volumes and I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read it!
What I do know is that the narrator recollects his memories of childhood and experiences into adulthood in late 19th and early 20th century France and reflects on loss of time and lack of meaning in the world. And I know that it’s most famous for ‘the episode of the madeleine cake’ and how the smell and the taste reawaken forgotten memories.
The narrator tells us “For a long time, I went to bed early” and has a memory of being in his bedroom in the family’s country home in Combray, while downstairs his parents entertain a friend called Charles Swann, an elegant man of Jewish origin with strong ties to society.
He remembers missing his mother’s goodnight kiss, and that later she spends the night reading to him. It’s his only memory of Combray until years later, the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea stirs memories of a similar snack as a child with his invalid aunt Leonie, and leads to more memories of Combray.
I remembered this when earlier this week Fatimah Omran offered to share her Mamoul semolina biscuit recipe and her childhood memories of Eid for Recipes For Ramadan.
Fatimah is well-known for her passion for baking and all things sweet, for her bakery Petite Desserts, as Operations Manager at The Culinary School in Sydney’s Punchbowl and as an established food influencer with a huge national and international Instagram following. Her No 1 passions are baking and her faith.
“Mum and dad both grew up in Tripoli on the north west coast of Lebanon. Tripoli has a lot of Syrian influence and I think it’s fair to say our sweet pastries are probably the best in the Middle East.
I sometimes joke that I grew up in the kitchen alongside my mother who didn’t so much teach me how to cook as use me for child labour! But I loved it. I was the designated cake batter bowl licker – that was my reward and probably has something to do with my love of cake-making and baking and desserts.
I didn’t understand the concept of time when I was young but I always knew Eid was around the corner the second mum laid out a blanket on the floor of the kitchen. That’s how we prepped for Mamoul every year.
A semolina cookie dough filled with nuts or dates and lightly dusted with icing sugar, mamoul is traditionally eaten on Eid celebrations and just the scent of those sweet morsels brings childhood memories of Eid rushing back.
From making the dough the night before to the careful wrapping of each and every fragile piece, my mum would literally make mamoul in kilos and give it out to close family members in single individual pieces.
Every mother and grandmother proudly claims they own the ‘Best Mamoul Recipe’ but I know in my heart of hearts, my mother’s pistachio mamoul is a melt in your mouth moment which I’ll never be able to compete with – and neither can anyone else.”