BELFAST — For 19th century French author Marcel Proust, a rush of childhood memories came from the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea.
But for people from Camden, those memories are unlocked by the taste of something quite different: the giant, chocolate frosting-covered cinnamon rolls dubbed Persian buns that were made, sold and devoured in great quantities at the Camden Home Bakery for more than 40 years.
“We’d get out of the Knowlton Street School and make a beeline to the bakery,” Chris Morong of Camden reminisced recently about the Persian buns. “They’d just melt in your mouth. So sweet and cinnamon and chocolatey. We’d cut through people’s backyards to see who could get there first.”
Talking about the Persian buns made Morong and his friends remember other things about their younger days, like the way the bakery made the town smell delicious and the way the Knox Woolen Mill filled the air with its endless sounds of clicking and clacking on their cross-town sprints.
“It was a whole thing of senses,” said Andy Young of Lincolnville.
For years, that unforgettable flavor has lived only in their memories, because the Camden Home Bakery is no more. It changed hands in the mid-1980s from original owners Gene and Ted Allen and then closed for good about six years later.
“I remember being super-bummed when the Camden bakery closed,” Alleson Bixler of Lincolnville said. She, Morong and Young — all members of the Camden-Rockport High School Class of 1981 — had gathered at Weaver’s Bakery on Main Street in Belfast to dish about the buns.
Several members of their class spent the spring trying to persuade local bakers to bring back the buns before their 30th high school reunion. A still-anonymous fan even started a Facebook page called “Friends of the Persian Bun,” with the motto “We will not stop until the first bun is frosted.”
The grass-roots campaign worked. Now, Matt Weaver of Weaver’s Bakery has risen his dough to the challenge. He has worked for several weeks to perfect his recipe for the Persian bun, and the satisfied former students said that he was successful.
“He was the best,” Bixler said. “He said, ‘Whatever you guys want, I will do it.’”
The first several batches weren’t quite right, including one accidental glazing mishap. With the help of his trusty tasters, though, Weaver finally hit on a winning formula.
“It just brought back the memories,” Morong said. “Bite into it, and go back in time.”
Young took a box of the first remixed Persian buns to Camden, posting his whereabouts on Facebook as he went from stop to stop to deliver them.
“He was like the Pied Piper,” Bixler said. “People started following him wherever he went.”
Camden has a long history with baked treats, the former classmates said. According to local lore, a sea captain from Camden named Hanson Crockett Gregory “invented” the doughnut hole around 1847 when he was a 16-year-old, working on a lime-trading ship, and sick of the indigestion that came from eating underdone doughnuts.
“Well, I says to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t a space inside solve the difficulty?’” he told a Washington Post reporter in 1916.
Gregory said he was inspired to cut the middle out of the doughnut with the cover of the ship’s tin pepper box and was well satisfied with the end results.
After returning to shore, he taught the trick to his mother and the technique caught on, according to the old news story.
The modern-day Persian bun fans are hoping that their favorite baked goods will remain as popular. So far, so good, they said.
When the buns were first deemed ready to sell, Bixler and others warned Weaver that he should make extras. He’s glad he listened, as the first Saturday they were available he sold 80 by 10:30 a.m.
“We’re pretty famous for our doughnuts and breads, but this is different. It was crazy,” he said.
Bixler ordered a few dozen to send overnight to friends around the country, satisfying longtime longings in Kentucky, Missouri, Texas and Seattle.
New fans of the Persian bun are also being made.
Eight-year-old Ivan Young of Lincolnville has become a fourth-generation Persian bun lover, according to his dad.
“They’re awesome,” Ivan said.
The buns are now available both at the Belfast bakery and at French & Brawn Marketplace in Camden, which gets a delivery from Weaver’s a couple of times a week.
There is one problem, however — the return of the Persian bun has happened just in time for Camden-Rockport High School’s 30th high school reunion in August. That’s good, as there will be a special hike up Maiden’s Cliff that features coffee and Persian buns. But it’s also a little bit bad for the waistline, said the classmates.
“We’re joking that we’re all on our new diets for our class reunion,” Young said. “And now, the Persian buns.”