In 1755, the Duke of Lorraine Stanislas Leszczynski, gave a dinner in his admirable castle of Commercy. During the meal, he learned that his pastry chef, angry after a dispute, has quit his job, and took the dessert with him.
It seemed that dinner will inevitably be compromised, but a young servant offered to bake a cake using a recipe she inherited from her grandmother. For lack of anything better, the Duke was forced to accept.
The guests appreciated the cakes very much and, relieved, Duke Stanislas called the girl responsible for this wonder and gave this small cake, moulded in a Saint-Jacques shell, the name of this young heroine: Madeleine, from the town of Commercy.
This Lorraine tradition lasted until this day and it is now common in France to have madelines as a snack.
The term “madeleine” is also used in the following French idiom: “Pleurer comme une Madeleine”. It literally means to “cry like a Madeleine” and figuratively means to “cry one’s eyes out”.
This phrase is a reference to the Bible. It tells the story of Mary from the city of Magdala, later called Mary Magdalene. This woman was a former prostitute, and she appeared before Jesus when she learned that he was at Magdala. She sat at his feet, watering them with her tears, and drying them with her hair as she confessed her sins. This scene is at the origin of this expression.
As a literary reference, we can also mention “La madeleine de Proust”, or the “episode of the madeleine”: It is when a sensual experience (of colour, odour or location) plunges a person into an involuntary remembrence of his childhood, as the smell of the madeleines did with Marcel Proust. The expression was inspired by a passage from Marcel Proust’s novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’.
Written by Lucile Mirande-Bret
Terminology trainee at TermCoord