I have a sister (colourful, excitable, b. 1959) who used to describe some flavours as tasting exactly like the smell of something else. My Dad (v non-excitable, b. 1928) told her she was speaking a whole lot of tommyrot.
Now just keep your finger in that page for a bit and lets talk violets.
I was walking into a mate’s place the other day and vaguely noted what I took to be little balls of screwed up white paper in his front garden bed. Now this mate is capable of spectacular feats of messiness, but not in the way of paper blowing around in a garden bed, so I looked again, and realized that I was looking at violets. Double white parma violets. I’d only been reading about this very violet a few days before in the catalogue from Lambley nursery, in which David Glenn states that a single bloom of Viola ‘Comte de Brazzi’ can perfume a whole room. I don’t know about the power of one, but the four I brought home with me are more than capable of the job.
Violets exude an extraordinary perfume. It’s rich, warm, velvety and has a viscosity (to me) somewhere between syrup and treacle. It’s been scientifically proven that we desensitize to it quite quickly, and that it takes minutes for our receptors to reset in order to be able to smell it again (which kind of explains why I found, many years ago, that walking around with one shoved up my nostril is a little pointless). But curiouser still, some people can’t smell it at all. My wife is such a person. My kids can all smell it.
To me it’s a smell. But to my kids, it’s the smell of a taste.
Back in 2004 we were living in Northern Ireland, and we bought a packet of sweets (you don’t call ‘em lollies there) called Parma violets. The extent to which they tasted exactly like the smell of violet flowers was surreal. And the first thing you discerned, as they landed on your tongue, was that it’s much better as a scent than as a flavor. About half-way through my first one I felt like I started to take on a faint tinge of purple (just like Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory), and a throbbing, mauve-coloured headache seeped into my frontal lobes.
Just this minute I asked my 19 year old if she could smell the little bunch of violets I was holding up to her. She answered ‘If they smell like those lollies, I’m going to kill you’. She sniffed. ‘Instant headache’ she announced.
On Friday night, my eldest daughter was home for her birthday, and took a sniff. Her brain took her straight back to Northern Ireland. The very next day she was lurking around some shops in Olinda, Victoria, and guess what she found?