When my friend author Kathleen Kohler told me she was going to bake a peach cobbler my taste buds went on high alert and my mind somersaulted to my past as I recalled the succulent fragrance of my mother canning peaches from our tree.
I imagined my friend Kathleen later extracting her steamy cobbler from her oven: the aroma of bubbling peaches and warm dough filling her kitchen. Peach pies I’d eaten decades ago danced through my mind and my mouth salivated.
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, perhaps more so than any of our other senses, such as sight and touch. This phenomenon happens spontaneously, with a smell often acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten experience or event.
In addition to being the sense most closely linked to memory, smell is also highly individual. Studies have confirmed that women have a superior sense of smell.
There are certain odors that all humans find offensive, fortunately, because they warn us of danger, such as smoke or of rotten food. My husband hates mothballs, but they remind me of my grandma’s attic in CT. Yet since they are reportedly bad for the health I use cedar spray. Ah, another scent that reminds me of Christmas and my parents’ cabin in the forest.
Do you love the smell of used books? When you walk into a library or a secondhand bookstore, do you enjoy that unique aroma so loved that many avid readers still prefer physical books over the convenience of their digital versions?
Barbecued burgers on the grill might conjure up recollections of childhood picnics. Cinnamon toast reminds me of my mother as I walked into the kitchen door after school. Tea and cinnamon toast every day.
Most writers are keenly aware of the sense of smell and use it to their advantage when creating a scene. When an author fails to include scent the writing feels flat.
One of my favorite perfumes is the aftermath of rainfall. Or the back of a baby’s neck. Buttered popcorn might remind me of a movie I haven’t seen for twenty years — or the emotions I felt from the film or of the person I was with.
Can you think of fragrances that spiral you back to your childhood? What do you think of when you smell roses or lilies? Or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies? When you inhale a trace of your grandmother’s perfume, how do you feel? If you could only pick a favorite scent what would it be?
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PS: Kathleen’s cobbler recipe comes from Betty Crocker, however Kathleen uses twice the amount of fruit and one-third less sugar, and says it tastes delicious with vanilla bean ice cream.