The smells of the season recalled

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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Ah, the smells of yesteryear. There have been several Short Rows columns through the years celebrating the importance of our olfactory senses in recalling the past. And no columns have ever received more response from readers than those.

This week’s Short Rows is offered with thanks to Catherine Delk-Calkins. She is an Isle of Wight native and, as a close friend of my sister’s, was a regular visitor to the Edwards farm.

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Katherine sent a timely note this week recalling the smells of Christmas, which I happily relate.

Applesauce cake, she wrote was made with her grandmother Delk’s recipe on Christmas even. “I still do this, but a little ahead” of Christmas, she notes.

Then, there were the cedar Christmas trees. Red cedars were the nearly universal Christmas tree in Tidewater and could be found along fence rows and in abandoned fields throughout the area. The “tree hunt” was an annual ritual and the smell of fresh cedar in the house was a huge part of Christmas.

Katherine next recalled the smell of “a ham — a real ham,” cooking in a pot of water on the kitchen stove. The smell unique combines the smoky, somewhat greasy scent of a long-cure ham. It’s likely something that only a one-time country boy or girl could love. Katherine obviously does and I do as well.

Then, there was the box of candy that children received, some from Santa, others elsewhere. Katherine received hers at church each year. She recalled the smells of hard candy (I recall cinnamon quite well) and chocolate drops.

There was also the smell of peanuts being roasted (parched, as Katherine recalls the country term) in the oven. The peanuts were saved from the fall’s harvest and roasted in the shell. The smell of in-the-shell peanuts roasting is indeed unique and memorable.

And finally, there was simply the smell of the outdoors in winter, something still available if we take the time to enjoy it.

I recall a couple she didn’t mention. Among the strongest is the combined smells of the kitchen during the holidays. Chocolate, cinnamon and nutmeg were used abundantly (still are at our house) and the blended aromas of cookie-baking time are something to savor.

There was always a turkey in the oven on Christmas Day, and its mild, baked aroma filled the dining room when it was served.

And in the days when a wood-fired tin heater welcomed us in the kitchen, a subtle smoky background odor was always present. It warms the cockles of my heart to this day.

Awfully good memories, Katherine. Thank you for sharing them.