Monday, March 10, 2014



I knocked the vanilla bottle out of the fridge door this morning, and knowing I couldn’t catch it, just waited there for a long moment, face squinched, shoulders hunched against the coming smash-and-loss.   All was well, for perhaps it was all those years of loving and coveting the contents of those brown-filled glass bottles of the past that caused my memory lapse; the plastic container made a hearty thunk and just lay there, perfectly fine.    And so I DID remember this post, from way back when I started Lawn Tea:
I've always been in love with Vanilla. Capital V. I thought it the loveliest of scents, and would sniff and sniff at the cork 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 tongue-tip down into a 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 White Shoulders, Mammaw's latest something-Coty, my city Aunts' sophisticated, musky-peppery Chanels and Joy---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 packs following me home.

And during college years, (long since graduated from eau de Watkins and McCormick to Emeraude 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, falling back into sweet, childhood-scented dreams.     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, and I still wish they'd bottle that stuff and sell it at Nordstrom.

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 light bulb, 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.

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 magical scent and possibilities, sending its glory out into the world long after the flowers are gone.


Chesapeake said...

A bottle of the Mexican "real" vanilla will come your way this summer, or maybe two or three after this joyous post.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel,

How we love the idea of Chris waltzing you round the kitchen, you with a dab of Vanilla behind each ear!

Vanilla is, as you say, such a deliciously romantic scent whether it comes from perfumes or pastries. Somehow it makes everything right with the world and makes one feel all warm and happy inside.

So often it is a particular scent which transports one back to earlier times and strange how one can recall the tiniest of details. I can never forget the scent of massed Gardenias which a friend uses to fill large containers in her conservatory. Just a whiff and I am instantly back there with her, sipping tea and putting the world to rights!

Patsy said...

How could we get by with out the smell and taste of vanilla?
Thanks so much for you sweet comments--We are getting better will just take a bet more time.

donna baker said...

Rachel, you can find a plant like the one in the picture at Logee's Tropical Plants, in Connecticut. It is where I buy most of my plants.

Cape Coop said...

Did you know that I naturally smell of cookies, vanilla or cocoa to many folks? It is the oddest thing, every so often a stranger will turn to me and say "My , you smell like a cookie!" and my daughter and many suitors have said as much too. I think I smell of vanilla, myself, and I wear it as a scent sometimes, to add to my own aura.

Kim S. said...

Thank you, Rachel, for your vanilla rhapsodies! I've always thought it odd that calling something or someone 'vanilla' means they are boring or bland. Just try leaving the vanilla out of a chocolate cake or a cooky and see what you get!

PS - Right this second I have a delightful chocolate Co'cola cake in the oven and I used that vanilla that Chesapeake was talking about and I can vouch for the swoony-ness of it!