In Search of the Almond Squares: A Proustian Adventure
By Karen Petersen
Every Sunday morning my father would leave our new house and bicycle through the woods down to the local German deli on a wobbly black English bike. He'd come back with what seemed to me then to be a gargantuan-sized New York Times, a bag of fresh ground coffee, a pound of German head cheese, a few salt sticks and a small, square white Entenmann’s box with blue lettering. Inside were nine powdered-sugar covered delights called "almond squares."
There was something sophisticated and elegant in their size, their layered, cake-like contents, filled with raspberry jam and almond paste–I could picture them on a silver serving tray in DeGaulle's drawing room, or sitting on a doilied plate in Freud's study as he dozed off. The almond squares were the epitome of everything continental to me then, a part of Europe that had come into my house, and they were everything that suburban Long Island was not.
The almond squares had become so much a part of our Sundays that I took them for granted, but after my father died during my teenage years that ritual somehow got lost. But one faraway summer 30 years later, I unexpectedly remembered them again. I was working abroad and became very ill, and in my delirium I thought I might die, all alone in Asia, and for comfort I began thinking about my childhood, and remembering, after all those years, my father and the happy times on Sundays.
I suddenly had the deepest longing to eat an almond square, and be comforted by it and all that it represented. They had been so delicious I couldn't imagine why Entenmann's had let them lapse into obscurity. So when I returned home I wrote the company a fan letter, hoping against hope that it might make a difference. As it turned out, their corporate headquarters were in Bayshore, NY, not far from where I had grown up.
I went overseas on assignment again, and when I returned there was a white envelope with the flying blue Entenmann's logo up in the left hand corner waiting for me. But it wasn't good news and it wasn't bad. They too, remembered the almond squares fondly, and although they were in the process of reintroducing items like rugelach as a part of their "old favorites program," they couldn't guarantee that the almond squares would be resurrected. I read this sadly and decided that Thomas Wolfe had been right after all: you can't go home again.
A year later, one lonely, cold winter morning at a Times Square deli in New York City, I was waiting to pay for some orange juice when my gaze accidentally fell on the Entenmann's display. Almost an hallucination, there it suddenly was--a small blue and white box with the lettering: ALMOND SQUARES $3.99.
I grabbed it and ran back to my apartment, laughing all the way like one of the local rummies with a bottle of gin. I poured myself a glass of milk and bit into an almond square, savoring it's delicious texture and taste. What an opportunity to go back in time, just for a moment, and enjoy one of the greatest simple pleasures of my childhood–I was filled with pure happiness. After several weeks they disappeared from the stores and I was disconsolate. That spring, when my work took me to The Philadelphia Inquirer I immediately began to search in all the Pathmark's and Wawa's of the South Jersey Philadelphia area, but to no avail. The almond squares were long gone, off the rotating regional menu due to the dictates of the marketing department in Bayshore.
I used to think that Marcel Proust and his obsession with madeleines was crazy. But that was before I had discovered Entenmann's almond squares had vanished from store shelves. The company assures me that the almond squares will resurface periodically, and New York is their best market. Regardless of where I may end up living in the future, I'm now resigned to the fact I will probably never eat another one again. But I guess it's okay, because that late February night in NYC I found again a bit of childhood I thought I'd lost forever and that was more than enough.