The word macaron first appeared in a book by Rabelais, written between 1548 and 1552. It may come from the Italian ammaccare 'to crush' - after the ground almonds used to make them. According to some historians these little cakes arrived in France in 1533 from Italy with Catherine de Medici when she arrived to marry Henri II. The queen's pastry cooks brought with them the secrets of working with sugar and almonds to make marzipan, and also the more humble macaroon. Other culinary historians say that macarons were already being made in French convents of the Middle Ages. Their accounts vary too on how the macaron spread throughout France. Some say that pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostella gave macarons as a thank you gift to their hosts at each staging point. Others say that the king loved them (and there is documentary evidence for this) and so pastry cooks throughout the land made sure to learn how to make them when he visited.
Simon's macaroons are in the rustic tradition.Whatever the truth of the matter, the result is that macarons are now ubiquitious in the Hexagon. They rise in popularity again in Nancy and in Bordeaux, where two nuns made them famous after the Revolution. Whether squidgy or dry and meringuey the 'traditional' ones are all different. Those from Montmorillon in the Vienne belong to the squidgy school. At the end of the 19th century two sisters in Montmorillon were the last in a long line of macaron makers. Having no descendents themselves they gave their recipe to their kitchen maid, who carried on making the macarons. Her daughter married and in 1920 she and her husband took over the business. It is now run by their grandson, who has expanded to several shops and in 2003 set up the Musée de l'Amande et du macaron. It seems that these days, France doesn't produce sufficient almonds to supply the ever burgeoning macaron market, and they are now made with Spanish almonds.
Source: Régal No 47.