Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pleasure of Eating: 3, Smell.

On Day 3 of our exploration of the role of the senses in the pleasure of eating, as explained in Dining and its Amenities, by a Lover of Good Cheer (New York, 1907) we consider the sense of smell. The author’s science may not be up to date, but the anecdote of the wine connoisseur is amusing and timeless!

'The olfactive sense, that chief detective, that Provost Marshal of the sensory brigade, gives warning of foul odors which are abhorred because of their association with bad taste, and signals the most delicate perfumes of savory aliments before they reach the mouth, and enjoys them during and after deglutition. 

It is clear then that the acts of gustation and olfaction are almost simultaneous, by reason of the close proximity of the end-organs of smell and taste. So far as they relate to gastronomy, Savarin believed smell and taste to be merged into a single sense, saying substantially that man tastes nothing without smelling it, and the nose acts also as an advanced sentinel to challenge incoming unknown aliments. He gave some well-known examples of the correlation of the two senses, among which is - when the nasal membrane is in a high state of irritation from what is commonly called a cold in the head - taste is much impaired and often abolished while the trouble lasts. In such a case, although the tongue appears to be in its normal state, no savor is detected in what is eaten.

The just appreciation of the delicate bouquet of good wines is a source of very high gratification to this sense which so quickly discerns and so greatly enjoys it before, during, and after imbibition; this last enjoyment being styled, figuratively, the echo of the sensation. No true gourmet ever thinks of drinking Madeira or white Port except in the fragile "morning glory" glass, or sparkling wines in other than the shallow, clear Cyprian bowl; in both for the artistic form of the vessels, so pleasing to the eye, in all cases to get the fullest enjoyable effect of theiraroma, and in the last, to feast vision with the rising bubbles and the expansive foam.

The memory of olfaction is worthy of special illustration although it is well known that the aroma of a wine may long dwell, as it were, in the mind of the connoisseur. An interesting tale, to this effect, has been told of a distinguished guest who, in discussing with his friends the merits of certain favorite wines, spoke warmly of the super-excellence of one of the Madeiras served from an unlabelled bottle and ventured to tell when, where, and with whom he had tasted the same wine; giving the date of the vintage. Thereupon the host smiled and said that, only a few hours before, the so highly prized wine had been purchased for a small coin at a comer shop. So confident of his assertions was the guest that, after parting from the company, he went to the place indicated and bought the whole stock of several dozen bottles of the really valuable wine which proved to be what he had said concerning its characters, its vintage, and its original ownership, and afterward learned by what devious ways it had reached the spicery. Thushis memory of the tint, aroma, and savor of the wine was rewarded, and he loyally retained possession of this delicious beverage whose original owner had died leaving no heirs.

Professional wine-tasters use olfaction quite as much as gustation in their tests and do so by slow
inhalations because probably they were told that the sense of smell begins in the upper half of each nasal cavity, and that the lingering of vinous fumes in this region of the olfactive cells and abundant twigs of the nerve of smell is essential to the right appraisal of their qualities.'

As the recipe for the day I was going to pay homage to the sense of smell by giving you a recipe heavy with garlic, but what to follow a previous treat of Garlic Soup? How about some sweet and sweetly fragrant violet candy?

Violets to Rock Candy.
Pick the leaves [petals] off the violets; then boil some of the best, and finest sugar to soufflé, pour it into a candying-pan made of tin, in the form of a dripping-pan, about three inches deep; then strew the violet leaves as thick as possible on the top, and put it into a hot stove, in which let it remain for ten days; when it is hard candied, break a hole in one corner of it, and drain off all the syrup; break it out, and place it in heaps upon a tin to dry in a stove.
The Cook's Dictionary, and House-keeper's Directory, (1830) by Richard Dolby.

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