The enjoyment of delicious food and beautiful scents are among life’s most wonderful pleasures, and in fact, these pleasures are tightly linked. Imagine holding a ripe yellow pear in your hand. Bring it to your nose and inhale the scent of its skin. The rush of fruity notes with their lemon and banana nuances will hit you almost immediately. Now take a bite. As you swallow, the caramel and milky notes become more evident. Finally, you might even notice some lingering almond nougat sweetness. Voilà, a fragrance pyramid on the tip of your tongue! To celebrate such simple pleasures, I would like to share some highlights of autumnal scents and flavors, seasonal delights that make me forget shortened days, colder nights and rainy mornings. Whether these pleasures include a luscious chestnut montblanc, quince stewed till it turns ambery-red, decadent persimmon jelly, julienned turnips tossed with pomegranate seeds or a slice of pumpkin flan, they are as much about fragrance as about flavor. I hope that this list along with suggested flavor affinities (some of which I found during my perfumery raw material training) will provide some inspiration to explore new pairings.
I find quince to be the most marvelously perfumed fruit, rivaling fresh strawberries and peaches. Its fragrance is a combination of violet, rose, caramel, apricot, and licorice with a hint of vanilla, sandalwood and jasmine. While it cannot be eaten raw, cooked quince, which turns from ivory to ruby red, offers plenty of culinary possibilities. Toss peeled halves in lemon juice, cover with a scented sugar syrup (1 cup sugar, 2 cups water, 2 cloves, vanilla, which is enough for 4 quinces) and either simmer it gently or bake it at 300F till the fruit softens. Let it cool in its juices and store in the fridge. Prepared this way, quince can be eaten Turkish style garnished with clotted cream and chopped walnuts. It is also delicious used in pies, crumbles, and sorbets; served along with cheese, yogurt or ice cream, roast duck or lamb.
Flavor affinities: sweet spices (cinnamon, clove, vanilla, nutmeg, star anise), cardamom, bay leaf, dried figs, apples, sheep milk cheese, rosewater, brown sugar, caramel, brandy, pistachios, walnuts.
Ever since I have smelled Sophia Grojsman’s cranberry and rose combination in 100% Love, I have been obsessed with this pairing. The pleasantly bitter and valeric scent of cranberries is underpinned by an acidity that matches very well with rose notes. Imagine my delight when I discovered a number of recipes in 19th century Russian cookbooks for tart berries flavored with rosewater. One delicious preparation is to cook cranberries in water till the skins pop, press out the juice and add sugar to taste. When cool, flavor with a bit of rosewater and garnish with mint. Besides traditional North American cranberry sauce, this berry can used to provide an acidic note in baked fish dishes and braised lamb with herbs. I also love using them instead of lingonberries in Vispipuuro, a traditional Finish semolina based porridge.
Flavor affinities: orange, lemon, mandarin, cinnamon, clove, ginger, honey, pears, pork, poultry, pumpkin, sweet potato, vanilla, rosewater, orange flower water, star anise, tarragon, cream.
A ruby filled jewel box, pomegranate is a dramatic fruit, simply breathtaking in its intricate structure. In perfumery, pomegranate accords tend to capture the powdery green scent of the fruit’s skin, but the tangy, winy taste of the seeds is what appeals to me. The juice can used for drinks (mix it with sugar and rosewater for a Persian inspired sharbat,) and marinades for meat or fish like salmon and mackerel. The seeds can garnish salad and fruit desserts. I especially like to make a yogurt based salad with pomegranate, adding mint, scallions and cilantro as garnishes.
Flavor affinities: almonds, beets, avocado, arugula, endives, lamb, duck, turkey, salmon, garlic, walnuts, parsley, tarragon, mint, orange, lemon, yogurt, pinenuts, pistachios, rosewater .
” I bite a persimmon
the bell tolls
Masaoka Shiki, a 19th century Japanese poet, who wrote the aforementioned haiku has a strong affection for persimmons to which I can relate. Even on a purely visual level, persimmons are striking—deep, rich orange, glossy, curvy. The flavor is likewise wonderful—a mélange of cooked pumpkin, melon and apple with a hint of star anise, date and caramel. Fuyu, the tomato look alike, can be eaten when hard, as it completely lacks astringency. Some varieties have dark brown interiors with a particularly rich toffee flavor. Fuyu is a very good contender for salads and side dishes. Another commonly found variety is hachiya, an elongated fruit with a pointed bottom. It has to be completely soft before it can be eaten, since the unripe fruit contains a high amount of tannins. Once hachiya is soft and yielding, it can be eaten as is by scooping out its delicious pulpy jelly with a spoon. Or it can be turned into sorbets, ice creams, puddings or mousses. Whipped with some heavy cream and served with gingerbread cookies, it offers a complex autumnal flavor.
Flavor affinities: sweet spices (cinnamon, cassia, allspice, clove, vanilla, nutmeg, star anise), ginger, lemon, cured meats, goat cheese, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, maple syrup, oats, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, yogurt, shrimp .
With their rich earthy flavor and luxurious creamy texture, chestnuts are a special seasonal treat. Although peeled and cooked chestnuts are available year round, they simply cannot rival their fresh counterparts, even though they are a bother to peel. My trick for dealing with chestnuts is to make a small cut in each nut, drop thus prepared chestnuts in boiling water for 10-15min and then to peel them with gloved hands while they are still hot. If they cool down, it becomes very difficult to remove the bitter inner skin. Chestnuts are really quite versatile, suitable for desserts as well as savory dishes. Their dark, complex flavor means that they do best with bolder flavors, rather than anything overly delicate. In Persian cuisine, they are often stewed with duck or lamb. Try substituting them for potatoes in soups and side dishes. Steamed with rice, they can be used to create a classical Japanese fall dish. For dessert, it is hard to find anything better than Montblanc. There are lots of variations, but my favorite is the simplest one, except that I serve it with grated chocolate instead of caramel sauce. Sugar syrup poached chestnuts served with roasted pears are also heavenly.
Flavor affinities: chocolate, honey, pear, orange, hazelnuts, vanilla, ginger, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, pumpkin, bacon and other cured pork products, smoked salmon, duck, game, lentils.
The taste of milky-sweet and soft first season walnuts is the reason I look forward to fall. The only fragrance that comes close to replicating this scent-flavor experience is that of high-quality vetiver oil. The unique caramel, cereal and milk flavor of walnuts makes them irreplaceable in my kitchen. Other than eating them plain or turning them into brittle and nougat, I love them as fillings in coffeecakes and pastries. Walnuts mixed with cardamom and rosewater have a classical Persian-Middle Eastern profile, while paired with cinnamon they become redolent of the Mediterranean. Add apricot jam and rum, and you can almost hear the Viennese waltz in the background. Pureed with garlic, olive oil, vinegar, mint and parsley, they turn into a delicious sauce to serve with eggplants, fish or grilled poultry. Mixed with grated onion, pureed dried apricots, salt and lemon juice to taste, walnuts can be used as a stuffing for fish, even as delicate as trout.
Flavor affinities: apples, pears, orange, dates, dried fruit (figs, prunes, apricots, cherries,) black tea, chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, maple syrup, honey, cognac, brandy, port, rum, Grand Marnier, molasses, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, fish, chicken, eggplant, onion.
From the tiny rose flavored Seckel to the banana scented Williams (Barlett) variety, pears embody lush, decadent autumnal tastes. Although pears are often treated as dessert, in some national cuisines they have an important role in savory dishes. In Sicily, they are sometimes added to an eggplant based vegetable dish called caponata. An autumnal seasonal specialty in southern Russia is a cold carp stuffed with pears and onions. A pear, tomato and onion compote can be served alongside any protein, including game and red meat. Pureed pear mixed into Dijon mustard is a great condiment for cold meats. Pear, parmesan and aged balsamic vinegar is a classical North Italian combination, while pears and Roquefort find staunch supporters in France. Of course, pear desserts are a story in their own right. What else can rival Poires Belle-Hélène, a dessert of poached pears served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and candied violets. Well, perhaps warm cobblers, crumbles, pies and crisps…
Flavor affinities: vanilla, star anise, cinnamon, basil, ginger, fennel, cheese, pork, duck, carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, chocolate, toffee, black tea, saffron, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Amaretto, rum, wine, prosciutto.
For most people in the US, pumpkin is tightly linked to fall and Thanksgiving holidays. Even Starbucks has jumped onto the bandwagon in recent years by introducing the Pumpkin Spice Latte or something along those lines. I confess that I have never been a fan of pumpkin pie, mostly because the filling is often so sweetened and over spiced that it is not possible to taste the pumpkin itself. Yet, it is a lovely delicate flavor that ranges from sweet and fruity to crisp and green depending on the variety. I love pumpkin roasted at 400F with just a dash of salt, sugar and butter. Pureed pumpkin can be used as a basis for ice creams, puddings, cakes or breads. Mashed with butter and a hint of cinnamon, it provides a perfect foil for most proteins, especially red meats and duck. Poached in sugar syrup like quince, it can be served for dessert with walnuts and whipped cream. In Western Ukraine and other Eastern European countries (particularly in the southern parts,) finely grated pumpkin mixed with sugar, walnuts and cinnamon is used as an aromatic strudel filling. Finally, for a beautiful Thai style dessert, small pumpkins can filled with coconut custard and steamed.
Flavor affinities: sweet spices (cinnamon, cassia, allspice, clove, vanilla, nutmeg, star anise), ginger, saffron, vanilla, apple, pear, potato, carrot, chocolate, red chili pepper, garlic, coconut, brown sugar, pineapple, cranberry, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, seafood, rice, walnuts .
Dried figs are available in the US year round, but especially delectable ones turn up in the fall as a new crop of figs is dried. White Mediterranean figs are among my favorite foods. The outsides are leathery, white from natural sugar crystals, while the interiors are jammy and sticky, with a wonderful caramel flavor. At this time, it becomes possible to find bay leaf and mastic flavored figs from Greece, walnut stuffed figs from Turkey or candied orange and raisin flavored confections from Italy. If you can find dried figs wrapped in fig leaves, it can be a special treat, as the fig leaves are rich in coumarin, which lends fruit a particularly haunting almond flavor.
Flavor affinities: cinnamon, cassia, bay leaf, chocolate, sesame seeds, walnuts, mastic, rosewater, red wine, duck, lamb, caramel, cream, cheese, honey, orange, prunes, grapes, apples, maple syrup, red wine, port, cognac.
Image of hachiya persimmons © Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved.