Food & Fragrance: 152 posts

Articles about the gourmand pleasures, flavorful cooking, scent and taste experiments and tested recipe ideas

French Fig Jam

Jam has become such an industrial, mass-produced product that it might be hard to imagine making it at home. This is not the case in France–or much of Europe, for that matter. When I visited my friend on her farm in Burgundy, we drove around for hours only to discover that all of the stores were out of preserving supplies. We ended up ordering a case of jars from an online shop, because the figs were ripening fast.

My friend follows a recipe that has been in her family for several generations. We cut figs into quarters and weigh them to determine the amount of sugar. It’s 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar. Figs are sweet, so we add lemon juice. As their juices melt into sugar, the syrup becomes pink, then purple, then burgundy, like the famous wines of the region. The green perfume of figs transforms as they cook. The fragrance of natural coumarin in their peel, the aromatic that smells of toasted almonds and cherries, becomes more pronounced and richer. The lemon zest gives the fig jam a twist reminiscent of Shalimar.

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Fennel Cardamom Sherbet (Saunf ka Sharbat)

La canicule, the heatwave, has reached Brussels, with temperatures in the city these days exceeding those of Delhi. Unlike in India, life in Belgium is not designed for a hot climate. Air conditioners are a rare item in most households. The buildings trap heat. The large windows turn apartments into greenhouses. Last night I was dreaming that I was sleeping on the edge of an exploding volcano. It might as well have been our bedroom.

Trying to retain sanity in this heat, I turned to classical Delhi remedies. Since escaping to the cool mountain resorts in Darjeeling wasn’t in the cards, I made a refreshing fennel seed sherbet, saunf ka sharbat.

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Culinary and Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World

“My most vivid scent from Beirut was that of gardenias. Our neighbor’s garden was full of gardenia trees and when they flowered, the smell was so heady and divine that I would stay outside just to enjoy it,” recalls Lebanese-born Anissa Helou. As a journalist, chef and prolific cookbook author, she has traveled the world collecting recipes and learning how different nationalities prepare their food. Yet when I ask her for a favorite scent memory, it’s the perfume of Lebanese gardenias that she describes.

I was inspired to reach out to Helou after I spent a few weeks in a haze of coriander, rosewater and saffron, thanks to her magnum opus, Feast: Food of the Islamic World. Published this spring after many years of extensive research, it’s a fascinating compendium of recipes from countries united by their Islamic heritage. As I describe in my article for FT Magazine, A Cultural And Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World, another common link among the diverse cuisines Helou describes is their attention to aromatics.

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Ukrainian Apricot Cheesecake (Syrnyk)

If I had to choose a favorite dessert, it would be cheesecake. If I had to choose a favorite fruit, it would be apricot. So, why not put the two together? The creamy cheese filling contrasted with the luscious fruit and crumbly pastry makes for a perfect summer treat.


Syrnyk, from the Ukrainian word for cheese, syr, is a local favorite. There are hundreds of variations, from the sumptuous Lviv-style syrnyk covered with chocolate glaze to the crustless cheesecake usually baked for breakfast. (Yes, Ukraine is the place where cheesecake can be had first thing in the morning.) But when I found a recipe in my great-grandmother’s cookbook for an apricot syrnyk, I was tempted enough to brave the heat wave and fire up the oven. The result was worth it.

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White Acacia and Cucumber Salad : Edible Flowers

While mimosa makes me think of the last days of winter in Provence, white acacia flowers evoke late spring. It’s not only the sweet scent that appeals to me, but also the taste. Beignets de fleurs d’acacia, acacia flower fritters, are a seasonal treat, a crisp confection dusted with powdered sugar. The acacia season is fleeting, but it overlaps with that of rose de mai, so when I visit Grasse for the harvest, I try to time it to taste the beignets.

What I call white acacia is really a black locust tree (robinia pseudoacacia), a common plant in both Europe and the United States, blooming in April-May, depending on the region. I’ll continue calling it white acacia, because that’s the name most familiar to me–and besides, it’s prettier. Whatever you call it, it’s edible, and the flowers taste like sugar snap peas, but sweeter and more delicate. Since it’s an invasive plant, one might as well forage for it and eat it.

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  • MaureenC in My Selection of 10 Fragrances for Fall: Lovely round up and reminder to go back to old favourites, the grain de music list immediately made me list what I’m going to try when next in London. The… October 19, 2018 at 2:55am

  • Elise in My Selection of 10 Fragrances for Fall: What a lovely column! I was personally deeply affected by recent political events, and can only just now contemplate something lovely. And nothing is more lovely than musing over perfume… October 18, 2018 at 6:21pm

  • Nancy A. in Comme des Garcons Black : Perfume Review: I always appreciated Rei Kawakubo for her creations specifically fashion however when it comes to her fragrances she never appealed to my olfactory taste. Throwing this level of notes that… October 18, 2018 at 1:36pm

  • Richard Goller in Comme des Garcons Black : Perfume Review: Great review, Victoria. I love this experimental fragrance. But then I also love CDG Garage. October 18, 2018 at 11:33am

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