Friday, May 18, 2007

Childhood Memories and the Croque Monsieur

When does a simple grilled sandwich take on mythical status? Apparently when it is mentioned by Proust. David's search for the perfect Madeleine in Paris the other day had certain associations fresh in my mind, and when I found the croque monsieur press yesterday the simple pattern inside made me think that childhood gustatory memories a la Proust perhaps were the inspiration for the shape embedded into the press. But I may never be sure. I can't find the inventor of the Cuisor croque monsieur press or one of his or her progeny in order to ask. Perhaps we will never know.

The Cuisor works perfectly.

We do know that for nearly 100 years the croque monsieurs have been offered in cafes, and that just about every French child is served a croque monsieur at one time or another. Loic remembers many croque monsieurs of his youth, and tells me that they were kind of like what hamburgers and french fries are for kids these days. He says that fast food chains didn't come to France until he was in his teens, and before that time, it was a croque monsieur in a cafe that children begged for.

Keep it simple.

You can search for recipes for the croque monsieur and on the French recipe sites be rewarded with a plethora of combinations of things to be toasted between two buttery slices of bread, but in essence, the classic croque monsieur consists of sliced wheat bread, which is buttered on the outside and contains gruyere and thin sliced ham in the middle. Beauty in simplicity.

Now what about this mention of croque monsieurs by Proust? Apparently in 1919, Proust and his Grandmother are served a croque monsieur and eggs. There is no reference to the actual meal, just a mention that it was ordered for them. This is very significant to the history of the sandwich, non? Perhaps I should read it now that I am reading in French and see if I can find out what the hullabaloo is about.

I studied the French language once with a lovely Japanese girl named Akiko who was doing a graduate thesis on Proust's mention of food, and was here in France for a linguistic stage before going back to the Japanese university. I always admired her academic stick-to-it-iveness. She was very serious about her subject and I thought there was something about her that was very attractive, observant in a quiet and systematic kind of listening way. We got along quite well. There was everything to respect in her chosen vocation. If I called Akiko she could probably tell me more.

The sandwich was delicious. I can't wait to try out all the variations.

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Blogger Katie said...

I always feel like I'm being an 'American tourist' when I order these at cafes, but I love them!
I endure the looks from the waiters but usually manage to establish my credibility by ordering a 'Perrier avec syrop de citron'....(please don't tell me I did that wrong....)

3:53 PM, May 18, 2007  
Blogger Francine said...

looks delicious! That really was a steal!

6:39 PM, May 18, 2007  
Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That is the mold my parents had in our house in the 50's when I was growing up. It had wooden handles painted red & white at the end of the metal. It made just the best toasted sandwitches ever! I have no idea what happened to it but I'd really love to still have it.

11:49 PM, May 18, 2007  
Blogger Lynda said...

LOL - I have been making croque monsieur for my 5 year old on Saturday's when searching for a quick lunch. I decided to call it that, rather than a 'ham & cheese toasted sandwich' because miss 5 fancies herself a
But somehow it got lost in the translation and she now asks for a 'FROG SANDWICH!' - as in croak = frog. It makes me laugh and I shudder to think what will happen the first time she sits down in a cafe in paris and orders for herself... it could start a French/Australian war!

2:28 AM, May 19, 2007  
Blogger Jann said...

i love this idea for sanwiches-makes them so much more classie!

4:25 PM, May 19, 2007  
Blogger Helene said...

First time I see a press like this but it looks great! What memeories this brings back. Croque-Monsieur was our friday night dinners. Dad was on base, we had school in the morning and mom was getting ready to relax on the weekend.
Guess what's for dinner?!

1:57 AM, May 20, 2007  
Anonymous cathy said...


I'm french and 49 years and I'm knowing very well the Cuisor's kitchen appareils. I have in my home a double croque-monsieur toaster, 2 cocottes in aluminium fonte, 1 of 8 liters capacity and an other of 16 liters, and I have one ustensil who serve to "press-ail", "décapsuleur", and "dénoyauteur", I don't know to said in english. I made my cook everyday in this ustensils. I keep this old appareils because my father do it when he worked in Cuisor's manufacture in 1960's years. It's my only heritage of him. And the croque-monsieur are very very good each time I'm doing it.

7:20 PM, March 10, 2012  

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