Friday, 16 October 2009

Falling In Love - Scents And Treats For Fall

We moved to the neighbourhood where I halfway live until nowadays some 15 years ago. Then, people would still sometimes plant potatoes in their front gardens, or at least peppers, those could well use the tiny pieces of earth surrounded by heat-emitting walls and they are expensive vegetables, after all.
Not any more. The neighbourhood became an expensive one, with really filthy rich people moving in, buying the old decaying villas, rebuilding them,with less or even less taste, to modern haciendas with swimming pools and gardens that look rather like countryside after nuclear attack. Soil soaked with selective herbicides so that no dicotyledon plants may ever live in the lawn, mulched pads, not with flowers but with the latest fashion in conifers. I always want to weep seeing such a garden and remembering that only a few years ago, the previous owners had the most impressive neglected rockery where the nice small colourful flowers took undisputed reign and spread everywhere.
There are some pretty old gardens, though, and old tough gardeners; and an occasional young crazyass weirdo who thinks that flowers are perfectly fine, but why not add a tang to the whole composition designed by a leading landscape architect of the town by something that's not only pretty but also edible?
It's been only an apricot tree until last year, when I, upon a whim, bought a pack of tomato seeds. Very late, the tomato plant showed first fruits only in December, after lots of care and persuasion. My mom didn't hesitate to show a certain amount of disdain when I insisted that we need, at least, mint for my mojitos, sage for my saltimboccas (1) and basil just because. And lavender, rosemary and a few others, when we're at that.
In summer, our geriatric dog succumbed to cancer of everything so mom decided to rearrange the garden quite a bit. The dog used to dig holes, uproot plants she didn't like... and such. I used my extreme powers of persuasion and we got rid of one weigelia (I hate hate hate weigelia, it's fugly) and I agreed that I'll do some guerrila gardening and plant the garden variety irises somewhere but not in the garden because mom hates them, and we'll get Iris pumila instead. And, I pressed, wisteria, jasmine, creeper roses (many and then some more) and...
Then I left for Italy and while mom didn't have me nagging behind her back, the irises destined for the unsightly patches of non-lawn down the street, the irises got planted under the trees where they'll die of lack of light (I hope winter comes late and I'll be able to replant them when I'm back from Stockholm, I don't like the regular irises that much but I don't dislike them enough to kill them) and added holly, three damn varieties of ugly prickly holly, two shapeless shrubs of Potentilla fruticosa, with red and orange flowers - I detest the whole potentilla genus if its members grow anywhere else than in the cracks in the sidewalks or somewhere in the wild. The shrubs look like worn-out brooms. And the whole mix is planted without thinking, using the age-approved style of Take a plant and stick it in the soil just somewhere.
Well, things will be dealt with. I at least plagued the whole garden with tulip bulbs, obtained for five cents each at the 'plant and wait for surprise' box at the gardening fair. Such tulips are the coolest.
Now, the tasks are still a few. One is to introduce stealthily an apple tree to the garden. I know which one, there is a sort of apples that smell like cranberries, they are small with bright white flesh and nearly neon pink peel and I'd have to order it from a nursery that specializes in long extinct breeds of plants. No garden is complete without an apple tree.

Not that I'd be such an avid gardener as to have written an almanac, including stories about what sprouts in March or when... idunnowhat. I just mess around. There however are a few seasonal associations (2), the strongest being late autumn.

Sometimes, the days are misty, smoky and grey, with a strange adstringent smell of fallen leaves that rot on the sidewalks, being trampled by the winter boots of passers-by. And some distant childhood memory brings apples to the mix. It's not even that long time ago when the high school at the end of the street had a huge apple orchard. It slowly gave way, bit by bit, to a new annex, then to tennis courts (I've never seen them used for anything) and then the last part was cut down to build a new canteen, the ugliest building in the vicinity. Those 15ish years ago, we'd go and pick apples, being allowed to eat as many as we could, instead of some real sport. I suppose we enjoyed it more than running around... at least I did.
There's something special about fallen and rotting apples. A mixture of awful and divine, they smell apples and rot and mold, you feel the potential for their delicious applines being ruined but still there's a particular and enchanting crushing sound when you step on one such. They get thrown on the compost heap with other garden debris that cannot be burned because it's wet or because there's police within noseshot, it's somehow prohibited to burn garden trash but nobody cares too much... thus autumn smells of rotting leaves and apples and burning rotting leaves.

For some reason, I've always liked apple fragrances. Until the recent yield of Delicious and flankers, there were not that many, in fact, I can think only of All about Eve. I suppose that there are many others but until recently, I wasn't much into perfumery and nothing had hit my nose.
At a certain point, which was a dreary day in late winter, I was in Italy, along with my SAD, generally whiny mood and a bottle of calvados, when it randomly occurred to me that, well, if other people can make perfumes, then why not me, I checked the supplies, made a nice cedary base, wondered for a while, bought more on eBay and within the week, I had the mildly disgusting Eau du Calvados ready.

Natural materials in perfumery are like wine, they need to mature. I needed to brag to someone so I sent a sample to Elena who was politely unimpressed. I let the matter rest, thinking that she may be right that it has no decent top and that I may throw in some bergamote and I halfway forgot it. After one move and several months later, I checked the marmalade jar with the first batch (eh, kitchen industry, anyone dare to whine?) and it.... evolved. It still may need a touch of bergamote, I don't know, after all, the Vieille Reserve flanker is not an abandoned idea.

I got my own autumn scent.

I wore it quite often in summer, it has a certain tart tanginess, after all, it's apples, and the linden blossom gives it a slightly sickening yet enchanting quality (decadence, anyone?). I made it as concrète, dissolved in wax, since my kitchen industrial equipment (3) wouldn't permit much more and I thought that in case it went bad, I could use it as an ointment for cracked heels. I still have to test what it does in an actual autumn and it may include curling up at the fireplace and knitting. Hear around Christmas.

The idea came from the direction of Helg of Perfume Shrine, my half-evil enabler, and the other participants are The Non Blonde, Mais que perfume, Ayala Smelly Blog, Savvy Thinker, Olfactarama, Notes from the Ledge, Ars Aromatica, Mossy Loomings, I smell therefore I am and
Tea Sympathy and Perfume

Note: I'm a stupid blonde so I somehow didn't understand that adding the picture is a part of the whole thing. Fixed now.

(1) mental note: everybody loves saltimbocca in my family. Gotta persuade mom that it's not a stew with sage and prosciutto, that the point is elsewhere.
(2) only the most inept balcony farmer can remain untouched by seasons changing; if nothing else, in the supermarkets, they tend to have huge advertising campaigns like Spring is here, get yourself some spring plants.
(3) you heard about cottage industry, didn't you. Kitchen industry is similar concept. It's performed in the kitchen with things that naturally appear in kitchen, such as empty marmalade jars or old pots.


  1. What a fascinating post, Liisa! Love your autumn scent.

  2. I had no idea you cook saltimbocca romana, what am I doing sitting here and fiddling with tortellini and tomato sauce, I ask you!! I should be over chez toi tasting that heavenly thing.
    So sorry about the dog...I had no idea whatsoever.
    And LOL, indeed the Eau de Calvados has matured, judging by the pot (big mistake to judge right away). I think it might have potential, you know! ;-)

  3. I'm with you on the potentilla, though I do like Weigela, esp. the "Wine & Roses" types. I'm the gardening renegade on my block, too, though in a neighborhood where tending to your own lawn is the exception rather than the norm, it's not easy to be "unusual." However, my plant:grass ratio is higher, the plants tend to be native/hardy, and yes, productive--fruits, flowers, edibles, recipe worthy. For all the creatures who visit. :)

    I am going to plant a fruiting tree out front, too.

    Love the Eau de Calvados idea. I agree with Helg...there's potential there!

  4. Mary, ScentSelf, watch out, there's something in the making that will make the Eau du Calvados available at least in samples. If the Ebil Plan doesn't work out, I'll simply make samples available some time in winter.

    Helg, I'm not that much into Roma cuisine but I love veal and beef and sometimes a divagation from the good ole classic rare roastbeef is nice. I also make excellent tiramisu, for that matter, and for the rest of my Italian cooking, I prefer to stick to the Florentine recipes (old bread, legumes, anything that grew up in the yard and isn't really prickly, basically)

  5. your writing is... stunning! :-)