[This is reprinted from my Ojai Valley Vegetarian Blog book. It is a good read just before cooking for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner. It will put you in a reflective mood and lift your spirits.]
Helen Keller once said, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.”
When I smell fresh baked bread I remember the pastries at Shubert’s Bakery on Clement Street in San Francisco. I worked with my dad in the Geary Ford parts Department at 12th and Geary. I couldn’t afford the pastries very often, but I would walk the few short blocks to the shop every day, at lunchtime, just to experience their fresh-baked aroma. The buttery Danish filled with cream cheese was my favorite. I can still see it my mind’s eye. Mouthwatering.
A whiff of chard greens takes me back in time to the late 50s and family dinners at Bancheros restaurant in Hayward. Biting into a fresh peach reminds me of picking peaches at Gran’s house in prep for two days of canning. Walking into a friend’s home and smelling a roast in the oven reminds me of my mom’s Sunday pot roast complete with carrots, potatoes and onions.
The varied aromas at Thanksgiving remind me of Nana’s house in the Central Valley. I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car and run up the steps to the porch. As soon as I opened the front door my senses were overwhelmed with the aroma of turkey in the oven and pumpkin pies cooling on racks in the kitchen. I could hardly wait to eat.
I recently asked my friends the following question, What is your favorite cooking aroma and what memories does it invoke? Here are there responses:
Strawberries and figs cooking over the stove to make strawberry fig jam. My mom used the hard wax to seal the jar. Yummmm. – Elana D.
The smell of bread and cinnamon rolls baking=my Mom. – Sharon G.
Nothing smells as good as a tree ripened Ojai orange or Pixie! – Suza F.
Oh so many. Shall I start with my grandmother’s cooking Mexican food, my Mom’s cooking, how can I recount the many memories? I do recall one of my favorite smells was and still remains, sitting in the Santa Barbara harbor with the view of the bobbing boats and the smell of fresh cooked seafood at Brophy’s Restaurant under a cool marine layer. – Brenda M.
Gingerbread ~~ takes me way back. – Barbara G.
GARLIC all the way… – Moses K.
I have none? However, I sure do hope I created some! – Robin B.
I love the smell of lots of things now, but few of them are as emotionally loaded as smells of things cooking in my mother’s kitchen. – Crystal D.
Coffee for me, and cinnamon sticks in winter. I could go on and on, waxing poetic…- Theresa S.
My mother is Vietnamese so the smell of lemon, mint, chili paste, cilantro and fish sauce would be my most favorite aromas coming out of the kitchen. – Michelle M.
Dungeness Crab…getting out of the car at the wharf in San Francisco and that smell of the Dungeness crab pots smacking my sniffer, then taking the crab home and the smell of it boiling on the stove and then cracking it on the table covered in newspapers. – John G.
For me it was Aunt Elaine and Mom’s roast with gravy that only they could make with such a savoy taste. – Sandy W.
Tortillas cooking and coffee brewing were my childhood morning scents. – Beth E.
Two of my favorite aromas are bacon and sautéed onions with garlic, but food does not remind me of a specific time or place. My real aroma memories are of pre microwave, air conditioning, prepared food and fast food days when women cooked dinner from scratch with open kitchen windows. Riding bicycles or skating through the neighborhood one could tell what was being served by the wonderful smells in the air. – MJ
Nutmeg…- Pam P.
The smell of percolating coffee, sugar and cinnamon. That takes me back to my Grandma’s kitchen when she used to let me use the pie crust dough to make my own little pie crust treats after she made her lemon cream pie. – Donna L.
The aroma of eastern Indian curries. While I do not eat curries or enjoy their particular flavor at this time in my life, it does strongly remind me that I was living in India in a not-so-distant previous life! – Nancy S.
My mother was a bit of a gourmet cook. I remember the stringent aroma of tarragon and vinegar simmering in a double boiler to make béarnaise sauce on our kitchen stove. The aroma would fill the house wafting up to the second story. Mom would keep a small butter tub of the béarnaise in the fridge and pull it out every time we grilled filets on the barbeque by the pool. Looking back now I realize from where my blessing (or is it a curse?) of fine taste came. I was a bit dismayed to find that not all fridges came so well stocked when I left home. – Gay M.
Hayward in the 50s also. Cookies baking in the oven when I came home from school was the best. – Judith B.
The smell of pinto beans cooked with a couple of ham hocks accompanied by the smell of cornbread cooking in the oven. I have such great memories of sitting at the table devouring these beans and the thick tasty stock they were in. We would all save 1/2 of the cornbread and crumble into our milk glasses with a little sugar for dessert. – Jodi B.
At Christmas my mom used to make these wonderful, crisp tender Norwegian pastries called rosettes. She had a flower shaped iron that she dipped into a batter and then fried them in very hot oil. When they were golden in color she would take them out of the oil and sprinkle them with powder sugar. She always let us kids eat them as soon as they were cool enough to handle. The tasted so sweet and good and full of love. – Robin G.
The yummy smell of apple pie baking and fond memories of my Grandmother Lahey’s kitchen assembling and cooking at least 10 apple pies…2 for each family…Red, Jimmy, Danny, Graham and my mom’s family…all good. I also think of my mom every time I smell mushrooms sautéed in red wine, butter and fresh herbs…they were the best and one of my favorites to still make. Oh…how could I forget my sister Karen’s blue cheese biscuits…Karol B.
Okra being cooked along with tomatoes and corn in a fry pan. – Elaine N.
The smell of fresh cut veggies on my lovers’ hands used to be the most erotic thing in my young life. O…did I write that out LOUD…;-0 – Theresa S.
My mother’s garden. It was small but she worked really hard in it and it was lush and green and fed our family of five very well. We did not have much money. But having that garden was the reason we never experienced the feeling of going hungry. The smell of fresh cut rosemary invokes a feeling of comfort, and relieve. – like the world is a good place after all. – Claudia W.
I love the smell of yeast- I always take a little ‘smell’ when I initially open the jar & I love the wonderful, wafting trail throughout my home as I bake bread – My memories are fond due to my sweet Grandmother Alfreda- she was always making bread – She had a funny metal bucket looking contraption that connected to the counter with a “C” clamp, it was her “bread machine”. She’d toss all her ingredients into the bucket, put the lid on & then she’d crank it to “knead” the dough – My brother & I were often enlisted to crank as well – Once it had risen, she’d pop it into the oven. My brother & I would get distracted doing something else, until the amazing aroma gently wafted throughout – We’d sneak a peek to see if it was ready – We were all too eager to get a fresh, warm slice of Grandma’s bread! – Suze M.
I have it for gardenias that grew in our yard and just to smell them anywhere takes me back. Latkes at Hanukkah and the smell of frying in grease. – madgesw
Mother used to open a can of coffee and call me over for a big whiff…I remember the joy she got out of doing that. – Mikki
Turkey and dressing. And I remember my mama! – Linda
The smell of pumpkin cake triggers a flood of memories from many Autumns — my favorite season. – David
In the summer, one of the things I like to have and make was bbq chicken with sweet corn and oven roasted potatoes. My Mom makes this pretty killer vegetable soup that would just fill the entire house…probably my favorite thing from her. My Aunt Caroline, she would make this killer antipasto for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. She also makes this oven baked ziti that if I were a condemned man, would be my last meal. – Matt