The Smell of Buttered Toast

Great Harvest Bread Company Chocolate Babka

“The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know certain smells can transport me more effectively than any other mode of travel.  One whiff of a familiar scent can take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode.  I am so in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, feels everything as it was before.

The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure.  Cinnamon becomes my Grandma’s farm kitchen, roasting turkey is my mother’s kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread is my own kitchen during the years I needed to knead as therapy during medical training. Today it is the warmth of a slice of chocolate babka bread for breakfast.

Occasionally I have the privilege of babysitting infants whose skin smells of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvet of my own childrens’.   The newly born wet fur of my foals carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own.  My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.

The garden yields its own treasure: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes past blossoms planted along the house, wafting through open bedroom windows.  The fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain will remind me of how things smell outside this morning.

I doubt any aromatherapy kit would include my most favorite–the farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding,  the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.

Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep forever.   Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn or be part of the hay harvest crew any longer,  I can sit by my fireplace, close my eyes, open it up and take a whiff now and then.  It’ll take me back to a day like today with the best smells on earth in my own backyard.

They will simply speak to me with no uncertain voice.

Jose, lord of the manor and farm

4 thoughts on “The Smell of Buttered Toast

  1. Sounds can also recall memories vividly, and even more vividly when combined with smells….as for me when I wrote this poem after hearing a Kildeer and smelling the newly mown hay…

    The Kildeer’s Cry

    He walked beside me, beside the mower in knee deep alfalfa
    A small man, a short man,
    not an impressive man.
    The sun was hot, the smell of newly mowed hay drying
    lay sweetly in the air,
    we worked and laughed free of care.
    Her cry cut the air like a knife, her fluttering, faked broken wing
    dragging in the dust beside the ditch,
    there beyond our reach.
    He motioned me to stop the horses, to stop the mower at once.
    Slowly, carefully, he circled out,
    listened for the Kildeer ‘s frantic shout.
    There, in the tall growth, cunningly concealed lay the nest.
    With gentle hands he raised it,
    placed it in a spot more fit
    where no hoof or wheel, mowing blade or scouring rake
    would smash the precious eggs,
    the nested tiny spotted eggs.
    A small man, a short man, not an impressive man.
    A man who in that moment’s mercy changed me,
    engraved my heart and molded me.
    A small man, a short man, not an impressive man,
    who lives through all my years,
    with the haunting cry of that Kildeer.
    Copyright Eugenia Lieb Rocca


  2. I just wrote a post about recalling memories, but mine were more about visual triggers. However, I have to agree that smells transport me back like no other. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I feel like I’m right there.


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