As the festive season approaches, I am seeing more and more advertisements for scents for the home. Pine, bayberry, the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla… The all important creation of the holiday atmosphere. The sense of smell is so important-a quick sniff of a particular odor can bring a place to mind; a waft of a special perfume, a face immediately appears. Scent has been an important issue down through time. My old cookbooks render numerous recipes for a variety of scented products for the home. Roses were an extremely popular scent.
THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith contains a recipe “To make the burning Perfume”, which appears to be a form of incense. The ingredients include damask rose leaves (petals), musk, civet and sugar in rosewater, formed into little cakes and dried in the sun. I have seen biblical references to “burning perfume in vessels” and imagine Eliza’s recipe smoldering in a saucer, or possibly even tossed on a fire, as we toss pine cones or other scented material. The same volume also includes instructions “To make a sweet Bag for Linen”-dried citrus peel, dried roses, coriender, nutmeg and cloves, as well as other herbs are combined, to be put into silk bags to put with linens or possibly garments.
The Jane Austen’s House Museum blog recently gave Martha Lloyd’s recipe for pot-pourri, which combined roses with lavender, cloves, cinnamon and other ingredients. This is designed to be kept in open vessels in a room, or in bags to place in linens or clothing. In earlier times, when rushes were strewn on the floor, sweet-smelling herbs, including lavender and rosemary were included to make the atmosphere more pleasant.
In our modern time, with our plug-in air fresheners, commercially scented candles, and other devices to sweeten the air, it is easy to consider this a modern concern. I enjoy thinking of the history behind them, the purely human desire to make one’s atmosphere as pleasant as possible.
Smith, Eliza. THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE. The Sixteenth Edition, with Additions. Reprint published 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England.
The Jane Austen’s House Museum Blog. “At Home with the Austens: Receipts for ‘Milk of Roses’ and ‘Pot-pourri’ from Martha Lloyd’s Household Book” posted 11/1/2012. http://janeaustenshousemuseumblog.com/2012/11/01/at-home-with-the-austens-receipts-for-milk-of-roses-and-pot-pourri-from-martha-lloyds-household-book/