Though ice-cream is my major passion, chocolate works for me a little like Marcel Proust’s “madeleines”; a small piece of chocolate slowly melting in my mouth immediately – and accurately – connects me to specific times in my life. Different brands bring to mind different moments, recalled simply by a glimpse at the wrapper. By the time the chocolate actually hits the palate, my memory has gone into overdrive, recreating entire scenes in obscene detail.
Were I to see the small, thin Melo chocolate bar of my childhood somewhere – a highly unlikely possibility since it was withdrawn from the market decades ago- I would immediately remember major drama, involving the Disney figure cards to be found within. The elusive Cruella that we were all missing from our collections, that obnoxious Black Pete who turned up in almost every other bar…the cards were definitely more important than the chocolate itself.
One of my first memories of England was standing on a train platform, being shown how to use a vending machine to get a Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut – it could well have been Picadilly after my very first visit to Hamley’s or Baker Str., post Madame Tussaud’s. The important thing is that to this day, the moment I descend into the London Tube, I can almost taste the Fruit & Nut.
In the same way, a Mars bar – frozen, then sliced – immediately takes me back to 81, Banbury Road in Oxford. The absolute munchies remedy, it had us rushing to the pub at closing time to replenish stocks for the night. It magically appeared on Sarah’s round coffee table, alongside the rolling papers, the roaches, the general debris and gave us the energy to summon the spirits that would move the cup… A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play – indeed.
The special treat of those student days, in Norwich this time, was the classic, chunky, Cote d’Or red bar. Au lait. It has that Belgian je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it special, extra creamy, extra rich. It accompanied end of term, ten-essays-to-hand in by the end of the week periods, along with endless cups of Gold Blend. Shame we didn’t know then what we know now about instant coffee! The way it worked was, one chunk of Cote d’Or chased by a sip of coffee and, believe you me, it went down a treat.
A year in France, lots of skiing in Grenoble and my room-mate Karli’s obsession with Nuts – pronounced the French way. I googled Nuts before writing this but got no results. They seem to have vanished into thin air, yellow wrapping, red font, nuts and all. Still, they sold them in six-packs at Carrefour and they fit nicely into a ski jacket pocket. This was the early eighties and Boy George was our Karma Chameleon.
Minstrels came into my life a little later. A large bag of Minstrels provides the best company for any film you may want to watch. When in the UK, going to the cinema without them is inconceivable. For others it may be popcorn; for me it’s a Minstel slowly melting on your tongue – after you’ve bitten into the crispy part once, to release the flavour. Late eighties, the ABC King’s Road, Juliet, my friend from UEA who passed away last year, way too soon, way too young.
Another favourite, Terry’s Chocolate Orange (milk): an eccentric concept that never seizes to amaze me, this truly unique chocolate briefly appeared as a bar but was, I guess, unsuccessful as most of the fun consists in knocking on the orange and watching it fall open before devouring it, slice by slice. It will forever remind me of the first time a friend showed me how it “works”; it was in London and it was almost Christmas.
These days I’ll choose ice-cream over chocolate any time. But every twist and turn of my memory lane is marked by a different piece of chocolate safely glued to my tastebuds’ scrap-book.