Sunday, July 26, 2009


I've always been in love with Vanilla. Capital V. I thought it the loveliest of scents, and would sniff and sniff at the bottle cap when I was too young to be trusted with that big glass bottle of Watkins that my Mammaw or Mother was using to doctor up a pie or cake or homemade ice cream. It's a good thing it's not really tasty on its own; I remember sticking an adventurous tonguetip down into the lid and being shockingly disappointed at the bitter, mouthfilling taste. Had it been naturally sweet, I’d probably have gone off on a toot of great proportions, climbing a chair to the shelf for my fix, til they caught me nipping at the bottle.

I was forbidden the "grownup" scents: My Mom's, Mammaw's latest bargain from the Avon Lady, my city Aunts' sophisticated, musky-peppery Chanels and Joys---well, maybe a tee-ninecy nip of one of those, if I could insinuate my sneaky self into the guestroom while they were dressing for the day, and the bottle was right there. They were always ready to gladden my heart with a little spritz.

Otherwise, I would make some reason to detour into the kitchen before leaving the house, in order to dab a drop of the lovely vanilla-essence behind my ears and in the crooks of my elbows. I waltzed through the day, confident in my own enticing aroma, and AFTER I discovered cinnamon and oil of clove as a fragrant addition, I must have gone around town for more than a year, faint tan smears on my skin, my whole aura redolent of cookies and pie. Thank goodness dogs are carnivores; I'd have had whole hordes following me home.

And when I was in college (graduated from eau de Watkins and McCormick to Shalimar on my own), my roommate was a graduate student in Chemistry. She worked long hours in the lab after classes, and would come in very late, after I had gone to bed. One semester she was working on synthesizing Vanillin, and I would wake in the darkness, inhale that heavenly scent from her entrance, and smile. I STILL wish they'd bottle that stuff and sell it at Nordstrom. And once, when I had a special date, I got her to take my favorite angora sweater and hang it up near her work-station all day. When I went out that night, I smelled FABULOUS!!

My vanilla bottle (STILL Watkins; we found our own supplier in the Yellow Pages, but now, the proud gleaming glass has been exchanged for plastic) gets a workout nearly every day...we use it in iced tea, pies, cakes, puddings, party punch, as a richening note in several mixed drinks as well as cut and pureed fruit, in coffee, pie crusts, all sorts of breads and muffins and desserts. And I keep a vanilla bean faithfully tucked down into each sugar cannister. I've been known to dab a bit onto a lightbulb, and YES, behind my ears once in a while for old times' sake. Brings back some nice memories, and sometimes makes Chris waltz me across the kitchen to an oldies tune.

And today, just lookin' around for a picture of the familiar old Watkins bottle, at least one of which occupies its special little spot in the fridge door at ALL TIMES, ready for any need---cosmetic included---I came upon THIS:

So what if Vanilla is the quiet, unnoticed kid, the wallflower whose mere presence points up the special attributes of her peers? It adds a lovely undernote, a richness, a depth, an extra level to so many other flavors. Even CHOCOLATE is enhanced by its paler companion, borne up to new heights and enticements. And Vanilla ice cream alone is, if nothing else, quite a good reason for getting up in the morning. So Hooray and Huzzah for whoever found that wonderful plant with its glorious scent and possibilities.

Be still my heart, cause I can't wait to post this and


Tonja said...

There is something about the scent of vanilla that takes me straight into a warm kitchen, where the cookies are in the oven...just about ready to come out. It reminds me of my Mama's delicious Pound Cakes, that everyone always wanted a slice for now and one for breakfast in the morning...toasted, with a little butter. It reminds me of those old time candy stores with all the different colors of candy in glass jars...just ready to be picked and popped into your mouth. It reminds me of a trip to Mexico several years ago where we came home with 4 BIG bottles of Pure Vanilla, 1 for me, 2 for Don's Mom, and 1 for my Mom. Only, one of the bottles leaked into my suitcase and everything smelled of that wonderful fragrance...even after being washed several times. I ended up without a bottle, cause by then, I'd smelled it all I wanted to for a while!:)

racheld said...

Oh, Tonja!! It's so good to see your voice again! I'm glad you're feeling better.

Trucker friends of ours brought us two bottles from Mexico once---a bottle of rich, wonderful regular, and a bottle of clear, for I still did a fancy cake now and then.

I don't know if it was just my palate unused to the kind, or if one was mislabeled, but the clear bottle smelled and made stuff taste exactly like coconut.

andi said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! I loved your blog and enjoyed my time here! I too love vanilla and the calming scent it produces when boiled with cinnamon. It just smells like home!

Southern Lady said...

Like "comfort food," I think vanilla is a "comfort SMELL." It reminds me of standing on a chair at my grandmother's elbow waiting to get to pour the vanilla into whatever batter or confection she was making at the time. Now Avery Grace stands on a chair at my side waiting to "put the vanilla in." And I can just picture you as a little girl sticking your tongue in the lid of the jar. How cute ... Thank you for conjuring up such sweet (no pun intended) memories, Rachel.

Alice said...

So what did you order? Vanilla is such a smooth comforting aroma. When my daughter was about 8 she made her first cake and very proudly iced it. We cut it for afternoon tea, but after one bite I had to ask her how much vanilla she had put in the icing? She replied, "Oh, only about a tablespoonful!" I also have a recipe that calls for 'a level teaspoon of vanilla essence' - I've yet to work out how it could be anything BUT level, certainly not heaped!

Good quality vanilla ice-cream is just about the best taste of all.

racheld said...

I love everybody's remembrances and fondness for vanilla---it just shores up any other flavor---and Chris picked up a new container (can't say half-gallon any more, I think---they're 1 1/2 qt. now) of Blue Bunny yesterday.

And though it called my name after our supper of grilled chicken wings and squash, with a whopping-good 'mater sandwich still warm from the vine, the once-a-year Decker melon won out for dessert.

And I didn't order yet---though the site looked like Christmas morning, I couldn't get through to anything without filling out a big page of names and addresses, and I don't do that online til I've looked into the site a bit. Chris calls me occasionally from a flea market or gun show, and says "There's a big Watkins display," and he calls out what he's seeing and I give him an order over the phone.

The Fair will be here next week, so I'm gonna seek them out then, face-to-face. At least they'll have their catalog, with a local address and phone to order from.

I was gonna get the Body Wash and the lip balm first, then go from there, though the cologne is still tempting, as well. Childhood fantasies, you know.

Keetha said...

I love vanilla. That's one of my favorite parts of baking, taking the cap off the bottle and getting a good whiff.

I'd never thought of adding vanilla to iced tea!

racheld said...

Just a drop, just a drop!! We started it when we bought out all the last supplies when a tea and coffee section in a big supermarket closed. They had huge cannisters of every flavor you can imagine, even sold some of the cannisters.

We loved the vanilla, hot or iced, so when it ran out, we just doctored up our own.

I tried the "almond tea" recipe that Oprah was in such raptures about, but it doesn't compare to an icy glass with just the whisper of vanilla on a Summer afternoon.

Kouign Aman said...

My daughter likes vanilla milk almost as much as chocolate milk. The advantage is I dont have to add sugar to make vanilla milk.
Now for some odd reason, I want to make vanilla-pickled peaches. I wont, tho.

racheld said...

And I'd just like to know why not?? That sounds absolutely scrumptious.