“You’ll know the answer to this question,” an unmarried male coworker said to me recently. “How do you get the smell of onion or garlic off your hands?”
The question smacked — make that smelled — of sexism, but I answered as best I could: Lemon, baking soda, salt, tomato sauce, stainless steel, alcohol-based cleanser. I gave him a variety of options.
But later that day, after peeling and chopping garlic, I sniffed my fingers. Why would I want to eliminate a fragrance that smells good. To me, anyway.
Isn’t olfactory sensation all part of the process of preparing and eating food?
I say it is. And with rare exceptions — the smell of deep frying or the smell of lobster in an unvented kitchen in winter, for example — it is welcome, at least in my kitchen.
While I have purchased my share of odor-masking and odor-eliminating candles, soaps, rubs, cleansers and potpourris, I now prefer a kitchen to smell like a kitchen.
“You can always tell a Swedish kitchen,” Grandma Annie used to say. “The coffee pot is always on and it’s always fresh.”
I thought about it and it was true. Friends and neighbors, Anna and Lillian were Swedish women married to French men. Their kitchens were redolent of freshly-perked coffee — most welcome on cold, winter afternoons.
And they almost always had fresh-from-the-oven coffee cake or rolls, too. Their kitchens were scrupulously clean and tidy, but oh, they smelled so good.
Some people’s kitchens had a certain piquant, almost sausage-y smell. I grew to like those, too.
In Annie’s kitchen, the aromas of vanilla and almond predominated, perhaps because she baked so much. When I want to evoke Annie’s kitchen today, all I do is open a bottle of almond extract. It is a powerful agent of time travel for me.
My mother’s kitchen smelled of cardamom and apples when I was a child. When I use cardamom, I am three years old again and playing in my mother’s sunny yellow kitchen.
More often than not, my own kitchen is filled with the odor of onions — and yes, some times garlic.
While I realize the smell of garlic might offend some people, I no longer worry about it on my hands after I’ve made sausage rustica or ratatouille.
There are, the way I see it, far too many other things to fuss about these days.
What does your kitchen smell like? What aromas bring you back to childhood or another time in your life?