Fresh Scents and Sensibility For the Home
Using Fragrance in the Home
This lyrical account from early pioneer settlement days offers a glimpse of the yearning for beauty both outside and inside the home.
As we started up the canyon for Bush Valley…Oh! How I would like you all to have been there to admire the beauties of the country with me. I never saw anything half so grand, and beautiful, just imagine the road winding through a narrow canyon, with high mountains towering on either side, covered with the greenest grass, and the tallest, straightest pines, and quaken-aspens the latter with their white bark, making a pleasant contrast to their more somber hued brothers of the forest. These interspersed with the grand, stately old oaks, and the beautiful flowers blooming about their roots, a clear creek deep road side overhung with green bushes, and grown up with grass and flowers, completed a picture long to be remembered. And I can’t help but think since that Miles must have had a great amount of patience to listen and reply to my oft-repeated exclamations of wonder and delight. For, you see, he has been there so many times, but he enjoyed me seeing it so much…The next morning took us in his team all over the valley, up into the timber and through the fields. Sister Nobles and I got our arms full of flowers--the men kept getting out and gathering them until we had all we could hold and crowded out the babies out `till their pa’s had to take them. We had about 25 varieties of flowers, many that I had never seen before. Father, the wallflowers would almost rival yours at the tabernacle. There were geraniums, and as beautiful larkspurs as I have ever saw in the gardens at home.
Such flowers as the party gathered could stand rich and perfumed while fresh, be left to dry for autumn color, and then finally add fragrance to a close cabin throughout a barren winter—sweetening the air whenever a stem was brushed against or crushed.
Fragrance is closely linked to memory—it can repel or attract instantaneously. It can sweep us immediately into childhood or remind us of a first date. It can even affect the way we see things. A cluttered room that smells wonderfully can make us overlook a certain amount of mess as “lived-in” or even cozy, but a spotless room that smells badly still feels rather dirty and unapproachable.
In a real-life world, we live in our houses. We cook; we spill; we create foothills of laundry; we change babies; we bathe; we burn popcorn; and we let children talk us into pets. Smells happen, yet part of making home a haven is making memories—memories that should include wafts of sweet and enticing fragrances.
So here are a few grace notes for such memory making, mostly borrowed from pioneer times, or earlier; designed to honor this description from the Doctrine and Covenants: “The fullness of the earth is yours…the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses… in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man…for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.(D&C 59:16-19).
Strewing or “Brush-by” Herbs
Most herbs are fragrant, some richly so. Lavender, southernwood, sweet woodruff, rosemary, mints, sages, scented geraniums, and santolinas all have heady perfumes that can scent the air about them; but become particularly strong when bruised because their natural oils are released. When brought indoors, even the very fragrant cut-herbs stale with time, so take a moment now and then to crush a blossom or leaf between the fingers, or simply “brush-by” with your hand.
“Strewing” is a very old method of scenting a room and involves putting some blossoms or leaves beneath an area rug. When the rug is trodden, the fragrance is released. When the fragrance fades, simply vacuum them up and in that way freshen the vacuum as well. Most members of the labiatae or mint family (mint, sage, lavender, thyme, oregano, rosemary) have an additional benefit “to strengthen the body.” They contain natural disinfectants that are believed to purify the air when their oils are released.
Whatever the temperature outside, my mother and her mother before her thoroughly aired the rooms of their homes as part of their daily cleaning rituals. My grandmother believed, even on the coldest winter day, that “fresh air warmed up better.” Whether by reality or suggestibility, I find the same to be true in my own home. There is an almost indescribable lift to a room that has been aired, even if only aired for a few minutes. Sunshine also needs to penetrate rooms to feel the full benefits of nature’s purifications, and to thoroughly “enliven the mind.”
Home-Made Linen Fresheners
Tucking sprigs of lavender between just-pressed household linens is a centuries-old technique for scenting bedclothes and towels. Such a process requires a great deal of lavender to actually create a noticeable fragrance, however. A simpler method that can be used with anything that is damp ironed is this: To a quart spray bottle of water add 1-2 tablespoons of rose, lavender, or orange blossom water. (Available at gourmet and specialty food stores.) Shake well and refrigerate between uses. There are commercial linen sprays available as well, but this recipe costs pennies instead of dollars, and can be used rather prodigally without guilt.
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d”
Like Walt Whitman’s tribute to Abraham Lincoln, fragrant shrubs and flowers near doors and windows can be the stuff of memory. Lilacs, roses, mock orange bushes, jasmine, lilies, hyacinths, wisterias, and lavenders are just a few of the many plants that partner perfectly with a door or window to fragrance a home. In late May and June, the honeysuckle vines outside our windows pack enough punch to fragrance nearly every room in our home.
Desks and comfortable chairs can be positioned near such windows to help take ultimate advantage of the weeks of incredible fragrance they provide. Fragrant shrub rose varieties are terrific below lower windows, not only for their sweet scent, but also for their thorny resistance to would-be intruders.
An easy way to freshen the kitchen while cleaning the spattered interior of a microwave is to place a pint jar containing 1-cup water, 1-2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar, and a sweetly fragrant tablespoon of spices into the microwave and heat on medium high until the mixture comes to a boil (about 3 minutes). Let jar rest inside microwave for five minutes, then heat again for 1-2 minutes. The kitchen will smell great and even cooked-on splatters will readily wipe away. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, ground cloves, ground allspice, or any combinations are good choices for this procedure.
Even though much of my high school math is occupying only the most inaccessible gray cells in my brain, I still remember one of my teachers sharing this bit of trivia for a welcoming scent when guests arrived with only short warning. She would mix up a quick batch of gingerbread, knowing that the baking odors would filter through every corner of her house. She also knew she would have a fresh cake to serve to her visitors.
Although gingerbread mixes can be readily purchased, here is a scratch version that takes only a little more effort to create than a mix, and is at least fifty times better. Pre-mixing the dry ingredients makes this particularly quick to get into the oven.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and pan-spray a 2-quart baking dish or casserole.
Mix together the following dry ingredients: Multiply it by 3-4 times, if desired to have some pre-mixed for future use. (Add 31/4 cups to the wet ingredients at time of use.)
3 cups flour
1-tablespoon baking powder
2-tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
Mix thoroughly and set aside or store for future use.
Boil 1 cup water and pour over the following ingredients:
½ cup butter or oil
1-cup white sugar
1-cup dark brown sugar or honey
Cool slightly and add:
4 large eggs, one at a time
Beat well and add the dry ingredients beating until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake until cake tests clean, about 40 minutes.