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Autumn Aromas & Fall Flavours - The Western Galilee Edition

Rocky and wild #betzetbeach #perfumeryonthemove

I'm emerging from what has been one of the most challenging months of my life (and this is pretty much what I've been experiencing with every month since May of last year). Three days ago, we moved into my mom's yurt (a sort of a not-so-temporary dwelling originating in Mongolia) and after one day of total hell (predictable with major change with anyone, but particularly for autistic people) my daughter is adjusting surprisingly well to the new arrangement. So to break the doom and gloom of silence that's been hovering over this blog, I've decided to assemble an illustrated collage of scents that I've been enjoying since arriving here in Israel. It's those little things that keep me going and bring comfort in the midst of total chaos and displacement.

And what better place to begin than the beach? It's the one and only constant in our lives since leaving Vancouver (besides basic activities such as brushing teeth and eating breakfast). The north coast of Israel is fascinating with wild life and the terrain is not as monotonously sandy as the south (although this has its charm as well). Lagoons, rocks and  ancient port cities and fishing villages lace the shores, as well as remains of an ancient factory for red dye from certain sea snails.  Beach culture here is also vibrant and goes year around, with diving and surfing bringing in people who would normally complain that the water is too cold in the winter.

Beach lily on the dunes
And as if the beach is not wonderful enough just for its warm, azure blue water - there are also some amazing wild plants growing near it. These wild beach lilies are almost as large as the madonna lilies, and just as fragrant. But their aroma is a little different - a sultry mix of salicilates (which are typical for lilies, as well as present in ylang ylang) and hyacinth's heady green. Add to that the fact warmth from the Mediterranean sun, which beats the dewiness out of it completely - and you get a scent of slightly-cooked bulb flowers.


Carissa macrocarpa
Carissa (AKA Natal Plum) is another beach phenomenon, but cultivated. It can be found as a hedge plant in many coastal cities here. This plant originates in South Africa, where its oblong, bright red fruit provides an important source of food (I personally find it too astringent). The flower is what I'm more fond of, as it has shape like frangipani or tiare, and a smell that is gardenia-like, but more subtle.

Anona #custardfruit #anona #beach #picnic
I've dedicated an entire post to guavas,  so I won't mention them again. But they are not the only remarkable fruit this season. Anona (AKA cherimoya, custard fruit or custard apple) are lovely-tasting fruit that look oddly like pine cones (especially after they get overripe and their peel hardens and completely blackens). The inside flesh has a flaky structure, similar to cooked fish, but melts in the mouth like custard. The aroma is very mild and appealing. This fruit is quite expensive, and always brings me fond memories of when my daughter was born, because my mom brought me many of them as a treat.

Quisqualis indica אלמון הודי. Smells like fragrant King Jade oolong.
Quisqualis indica (AKA Chinese Honeysuckle or Rangoon Creeper) greets you as you enter the veranda at my brother's house. Incidentally, this is a similar scenario to the entrance at his in-laws home. The scent is intoxicating, especially at night. Floral (vaguely jasmine-smabac-like) and heady but not overwhelmingly so, as it is balanced with green notes and overall smells like a good oolong tea, xing qin to be exact (also called King Jade).

#Jasmine
Jasmine blossoms are alive and well in this part of the world, and early morning is the best time to enjoy them. By night time most of their scent has evaporated in the sun. Sitting next to one of these bushes, with or without a cup of herbal tea (coming soon) is a most delightful way to start the day and remind me why I came here. I've been enjoying the ones near my brother's home (we've stayer with him for a month), and my own bush, planted 20 years ago, is still alive and well. There are also jasmine sambac bushes growing on my mom's property. What's fantastic is that they have no problem surviving the winters here, and can grow to be impressively large bushes with thick trunks, and they bloom many times throughout the year.

#Lemongrass #light
Fragrant herbs, especially lemon scented ones, are one of the things I missed the most about my home village. Nothing compares the taste of freshly brewed tisane from lemon verbena and lemon grass that you've just picked from the garden a few minutes ago. The flavour is so full of life and so refreshing. We like to open and close each day with this brew, sit down with family and relax; and also that's how we greet most visitors. For out of owners this is the epitome of luxury.

#tobacco #leaf #curing. #tarshiha
In one of my visits to the nearby town of Tarshiha, I spotted a tobacco curing joint on the roof of one of the houses. Tobacco leaves are usually harvested at the end of the summer, and can be left to cure outdoors in this climate, as the first rains won't begin till October (and sometimes even later). The scent of tobacco leaves wafted through the cobblestone lanes and many leaves that fell of the clusters on the roof could be found on the ground.
Syrian maple #fall #autumn
These are leaves of Syrian maple that I spotted in a creek nearby. They don't have any notable scent, but are significant in a symbolic way, because the season is called fall, after all. Likewise, the acorns pictured below are not particularly fragrant, but illustrious of the season's unique sights.

Acorns בלוטים
The acorns, I'm told, can be roasted and ground into a flour and used as a source of food. I'm going to try it this year... And serve acorn pudding from teeny tiny acorn cups. 

שיח אברהם/ירנך Abraham's bush (smells like #Indigo perfume( https://ayalamoriel.com/products/indigo
The flowers of Vitex agnus-castus AKA Abraham's Bush, Abraham's Balm or Yarnakh, appear in clusters like lilac, only that they are pointing upwards. They have a distinctive perfume that I can't describe. The best way to experience it outside the wild habitat is uncork a vial of my Indigo perfume.
Green mandarin #greenmandarin #autumnaromas #fallflavours
The first mandarins are ripe from the inside but still green on the outside. Nostalgic scent for me, as we'd pack them for the first days of school and they marked not only the beginning of the new school year, but also the many citrus fruit that will continue to ripen and provide us with vitamin C throughout the abrupt and rather stormy Israeli winter.

#מסיק #oliveharvest

The olive harvest season is now, and the rain wouldn't arrive to wash the dust off the olives. It was a very weak year for this crop, and many families including mine decided to not even bother picking them. My mom insisted and we helped her pluck enough olives to fill two sacks, which surprisingly yielded an entire can of oil (probably around 2 gallons). The experience was a tactile torture as there is nothing I hate more than chalky dust all over my fingers, toes and clothes. The first rain finally arrived in a short but violent outburst first thing in the morning of November 1st, so maybe now I will be more inclined to pick the remaining olives. I much prefer the smell of petrichor and olive foliage to that of dust accompanied by scorching sun.


Cured: The Science & Art of Decay

Orris Root

The challenge of some raw materials is that they might be rather unpleasant in their original state. At best, they lack any aroma and depth whatsoever. The cure for that lies in a process called curing (pun intended). Curing takes many shapes and forms. Sometimes the process is long and at times it's rather short. Either way, the results are nothing short of magic that tantalizes the palate and the olfactory bulbs!

We've all heard of curing meats and tobacco leaves, and it's common knowledge that wine gets better with age. But the culinary world is not the only one that benefits from time and fermentation. For some fragrant crops, growing and harvesting them is only a tiny portion of the process to make them edible, smellable or worth any mention at all. The starting material may be extremely stinky, bitter, astringent, or just plain flavourless at best. The processes by which the desired result is achieved is usually referred to as "curing" or "aging". It ranges from a few days, weeks or months and up to several years. The extra time and care that is invested in those crops makes all the difference in the world. And this will be evident and felt in the raw material itself as well as the finished product where it will be used - in our case, perfume.

Several aromatic botanicals used in perfumery require a fair amount of processing before being used (or extracted). For example: vanilla beans must be left in the sun to cure to bring out the vanillin; patchouli leaves must be dried and matured for quite some time to improve their scent; and iris rhizomes must be peeled, dried and stored for 3 years before they are extracted to produce orris butter.  Let's explore some of these unusual raw materials in more detail, as they specifically relate to the world of perfume and aromatics:

Oakmoss

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) actually is a lichen native to former Yugoslavia, and which also grows in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. You may know it under the name Antlered Perfum; however, it is practically odourless when found fallen on the forest floor. Once placed in hot alcohol, and undergoes a process of extraction - a fragrance that personifies the aroma of the forest floor's dark and mysterious hidden life emerges - fungi, decay, moss and undergrowth. No wonder Chypre, the most beloved fragrance family that relies on oakmoss, is strongly associated with fall.
Perfumes that give oakmoss its proper due are far and few - so reach out for vintage of Miss Dior,  Vol de Nuit or Chamade; or check out some of my Chypre (and Fougère) fragrances, namely Ayalitta, Megumi, Rainforest and Autumn.

Chawan with Matcha

Tea is so unusually diverse - there are white, yellow, green, blue (AKA oolong), red and black teas - that it's hard to believe it comes from only one plant: Camellia sinensis. It is the process of  curing - namely, oxidation, fermentation, roasting, and sometimes even smoking, that creates the unique effects of texture, aroma and nuanced flavours in tea. Some teas are even left to age for decades and up to a hundred years!
Tea leaves come in all sizes, shapes and forms, at times they are twisted to break the cells and release the enzymes that will start the oxidation process (as in oolong teas), other times they are rolled into little balls (dragon pearls or jasmine pearls), hand-tied to look like a flower that will open its "petals" once steeped in water, to reveal a colourful real flower in the heart, and many other ancient traditions involving teas. In perfume, we use tea notes rarely, because they are so subtle. The first "tea" perfume was Bulgari's Au Parfumeé au Thé Vert (which utilized ionone in conjunction with hedione to create the effect of freshly steeped green tea) and the series continued to even include a "red tea" scent based on rooibos (not from the tea plant).  But my favourite is, not surprisingly, the Bulgari Black, which is based on Lapsang Suchong (pine-smoked tea), and even more so - l'Artisan Parfumeur's Tea for Two, which is a more refined play on the same tea leaf. If you're a tea love, taste a sip of Kinmokusei, our osmanthus-scented tea with hints of tobacco, Gaucho (with the tannin South American Maté) or The Purple Dress (black tea).


Tobacco Flowers

Few other ingredients stir the imagination as much as tobacco. The raw leaves have a bitter taste and not a particularly pleasant smell either. After all, nicotine, the substance that gives tobacco most of its medicinal (and addictive) properties, is meant to protects it from insects. Although the raw leaves have medicinal uses, it is hardly the sophisticated aromatic that we have learned to recognize as tobacco. This is achieved via a careful drying process that takes several days to a week, and usually followed by an additional fermentation period of about 8 weeks. This will develop the characteristic tannin,  full-bodied chocolate-vanilla undertones and hints of coumarin, violet and tea notes in tobacco products that some of us are so fond of (or hooked on). Additionally, tobacco leaves are treated with various perfume and flavour materials to enhance and accentuate this character. If you like your tobacco leaf clean and dry - try Sabotage  The tobacco in or Rebellius is exotic and spicy-sweet, not unlike shisha,  To experience pipe tobacco or Cuban cigar in all their glory, dab some Espionage.

Patchouli Leaves

Patchouli leaves, an odd member of the mint family, do not smell like much when they're green and fresh. The sun-dried leaves are ideally stacked and occasionally turned in a process of interrupted fermentation. This way they will yield 2.5-3 times more oil than the green leaves. This process helps to rupture the cell walls and release the oil. However, that is not sufficient to develop their charactesritic aroma of patchouli. Exceptional patchouli oils undergo an additional step of aging, in which all the off notes (grassy, oily, tar-like) dissipate and make room for rounded, warm precious-wood aroma that you'll find in fine quality patchoulis - which can take another 1-4 years. Patchouli really does get better with age, and when this desired effect is achieve - the scent will remind one of both dark red wine, oak barrels and the cellar where it is kept. Patchouli is earthy, woody, musky, a tad funky, spicy and dark-chocolate-like. Examples of this can be found in  Patchouli Magique and Patchouli AntiqueFilm NoirRazala, and Palas Atena (Ayala Moriel).

Ambergris

Ambergris is a rare secretion that occurs in about 1% of sperm whales to heal their stomach from the scratches of the cuttlefish they swallow. This sticky mass floats on the ocean, and by exposure to the sun and the salty water it changes its originally foul smell into one of the most delicate and sought after fragrances: Ambergris. Ambergris is sweet, soft and slightly powdery. We use ambergris only occasionally – when we can find ethically harvested ambergris that was beach harvested. It is than tinctured and used as a base note in oriental and floral compositions. Best scents to experience this though are LesNez' mystical l'Antimatiere  by Isabelle Doyen; and my own Orcas, Etrog and Razala.

IMG_8605

Orris Root: Orris root essential oil (AKA Orris Butter) is one of the most precious perfume materials. The roots need to be peeled and aged for three years before extraction or distillation. During this time, the glucosides in the rhizome gradually metabolize into irone - the violet-like molecule that gives orris root its desired violet-blossom aroma. It is invaluable in perfumery for its delicate powdery delicate aroma and ability to fix lighter scents. Orris is a welcome addition to any perfume whenever a delicate softness is required. Orris butter is both powdery, milky and smooth - reminiscent of a baby’s head and soft skin. Experience the highest quality of orris, with 15% irone (the unique orris molecule) in Sahleb parfum. For a lighter, paper-thin iris, try Hiris, and for a more sophisticated, abstract, modern yet old-fashioned you must experience Après l'Ondée!

Iris (Iris pallida)

Coumarin has may sources, and in all of them, it is not felt all that much in the original product but only appears after a process of drying or curing takes place. Tonka is soaked in rum and then dried, to coax the coumarin crystals out of the "beans". Liatrix (deer's tongue) smells like nothing when it's fresh, and like hay - needs to be dried and even slightly fermented to bring out the coumarin potential locked within them, which smells like "new mown hay". Classic coumarin examples are YerbamateBiche Dans l'Absinthe. and Brut. To experience natural coumarin try l'Herbe Rouge, Sabotage or White Potion.

Climbing Vanilla Orchids, Patchouli and Vetiver

Vanilla Beans are left to cure in the sun so that they turn from green to black and develop their vanillin content. But vanillin is only one component that makes vanilla so special. In reality, this is one of the most compelling and complex natural aroma, inimitable by any manmade compounds.  Some 100 molecules were identified in vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), in addition to vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde), including: Guaicol, creosol, acetovanillone, vanillyl alcohol and methyl salicylate and vitispiranes.
Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) has a much lower content of vanillin, and has a scent reminiscent of heliotropin - but contrary to some literature, this is not a compound that naturally occurs in it. Rather, it's the anisyl compounds that are responsible for its soft, floral, almond-like, sweet heliotrope-like nuances, including anisyl alcohol, anisaldehyde, dianisyl ether and anisyl ethyl ether. (Bo Jensen). To experience true vanilla absolute in perfume, try Shalimar (the extrait has handcrafted vanilla tincture), My Vanilla (Anna Zworykina),  Vanille Galante (Hermessences), Espionage and Immortelle l'Amour (the latter has 5 types of vanilla, including absolute, CO2 and handmade tinctures by yours truly).


Orange Skin

Orange Desert

Cuir d'Oranger by Miller Harris intrigued me greatly the moment I sampled it at the flagship boutique in London. The memory of it haunted me until I was able to procure a decant some years ago. And it is much later that I got around to really sit with it and experience its personality uninterrupted. In retrospect, I realized that it is really its similarity to Feuilles de Tabac that intrigued me in the first place. But Cuir d'Oranger is nowhere near as complex and fascinating. I also misread the name as "Cuir d'Orange" (without the "r" in the end), which would mean leather and orange, rather than bitter orange tree and leather. So unlike others, I was not at all disappointed that it smelled like leather rubbed with orange skin.

The opening is that of dried, cured tobacco leaves soaked in aldehydic orange oil. There is only a blink of green from petitgrain (the leaves of the bitter orange tree), and then you notice the violet and cedar character of ionones diffusing warmth in the middle and softening the appearance of jasmine, which juxtaposed with patchouli could have come across as a hippie concoction from the 70s, but in reality is so subdued and is just there to create more body and bridge between the dry, woodsy tobacco theme in the base and the oily, waxy aldehydic top notes. At the base the dried tobacco leaf note is amplified with patchouli and vetiver notes and only the merest hint of tonka bean or coumarin, to offset the tobacco flavour and give it a more palatable taste.

All in all, Cuir d'Oranger is the more sophisticated younger sister of English Leather: less soapy, less coumarin-y, and with more accent on the orange zest rather than its leaves. The orange in question is a sweet orange at its most waxy, oily, aldehydic self, paired with a super dry tobacco and woods base, and a subtle floral softness in the heart. The orange blossom is only a suggestion, while the violetty notes of ionones creates a statement that is delicately forceful but definitely powdery, green like tomato leaves and clary sage, and along with the vetiver and patchouli alludes to the tobacco leaf as it changes colours from green to brown.

Top notes: Aldehydes C8 (Octanal) and C10 (Decanal), Sweet Orange 
Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Orris Butter, Ionones
Base notes: Tobacco Leaf, Patchouli, Vetiver 

Other reviews of interest:
The Perfume Critic

Equipage (Vintage)

Leather Pleasure

Crackle of a whip, oiled saddles, shiny boots being broken-in on horse manure and cedar wood chips. Few smells bring so many other images, sounds and textures to mind as leather scents do. And Equipage got all of these plus its own refined, aristocratic touch of carnation and tobacco.

In this genre, Equipage is more tobacco than leather, with a sweet-spicy opening of nutmeg and allspice, a voluptuous carnation body that makes it equally dandy-esque and gypsy dancer. Images of a carnation tucked into a waistcoat pocket conjured simultaneously with Carmen rolling up clove cigarettes in her wide skirts. And once she sells the cigars, we're back to gentlemen territory where everything is polished, woodsy and unfloral. The carnation clears room for vetiver to shine as the heart note in this fragrance for a rather prolonged period of time.

Equipage in its vintage formulation (a generous decant I received from Joanna, one of the very few perfumista in my neighbourhood) is both silken and acrid, sweet and dry/phenolic, and brings to mind both pipe tobacco and a horse-stable tack-room. Although I've seen many other notes listed in literature on this fragrance (such as bergamot and rosewood and perhaps some other herbs) I'm not really feeling them in this particular specimen. Perhaps they have dissipated or they are so well blended that they are barely noticeable.

The dry down is that of cured tobacco leaf and only the slightest hint of carbonileum gives it a phenolic underscore. Equipage is elegantly dry, warmly sensual and musky with well-aged patchouli, and naturally sweetened with tonka bean. The latter gives it a finishing touch of rolled-leaf cigar that has been extinguished and left for later enjoyment - and forgotten. That should be long enough so that the acrid ashtray notes have dissipated completely, as you'll fortunately find non of these in Equipage... The perfumer is Guy Robert, who is also responsible for the masculine beauty of Monsieur Rochas and Gucci pour Homme.

Top notes: Nutmeg, Allspice
Heart notes: Carnation, Vetiver
Base notes: Tobacco Leaf, Isobutyl Quinoline, Patchouli, Tonka Bean 

Other reviews of Equipage - both contemporary and vintage:
Perfume Shrine
The Non Blonde
Bois de Jasmin
Now Smell This
Basenotes (members reviews)
Basenotes (discussion about vintage vs current formulation)


Chypre Birds

Chypre Bird by Ayala Moriel
Chypre Bird, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Oyselets de Chypre ("chypre birds") historically preceded chypre perfumes. Made of a mixture of herbs and resins (labdanum, styrax, calamus) and glued together with gum tragacanth - they were place in homes as potpourri, or burnt for fumigating the space. They became popular in Europe after the crusaders arrived in the island of Cyprus (in the 12th century), and didn't turn into an alcohol-based "Eau de Chypre" till the 14th century - way before Coty's Chypre (1917).

In my Chypre course a couple of years ago, I've tried to retrace the steps of making Oyselets de Chypre based on this very vague information. We've used gum arabic as the binder to put together Mediterranean aromatics such as labdanum resin, sage, dried rose petals, calamus and patchouli. The material was difficult to work with and the gum arabic was not sticky enough to hold the shapes together. So only one student was able to make hers to look like a bird... The rest of the students left their "chypre balls" behind, in much frustration. Such is the life of the experimenting perfumer... Not all formulas work!

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri)

2 years later, I've decided to go back to those balls (which, by the way, make wonderful sachets to scent linens, stationary or drawers). I also had some left over powder of the herbs we mixed together before we added the water. I've decided to add a more reliable binder, as well as neroli water and a two other off-beat ingredients: a piece of dried oakmoss lichen, and a crumpled cigar.

Chypre Tobacco Incense Paste

Working with the material was like working with wet clay, and smelled similar - wet and earthy, and a little like a wet cigarette. After a bit of molding, it dries on the fingers and personally makes me rather uncomfortable - itchy between my fingers and impatient to get on with the task... So I took a little break before I was able to go through the entire batch of "clay" (I covered the "clay" with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying).

Drying Chypre Tobacco Incense Cones

Once I shaped most of the paste into little incense cones, I made one shaped like a bird. Just for fun, and decoration. The incense is a mistake that turned into a happy accident: the oakmoss and tobacco in it really do the trick and make it smell wonderful... Assertive, woody, dry, masculine and smoky in a good way. I wish I could turn this into a perfume. It's kind of like how the moss Poivre Samarcand smells like underneath all the pepper. Truly wonderful stuff, and if my witch doctor is right, the tobacco helps to protect, encourage confidence and push away any negativity you don't need in your life.

If you want to learn how to make incense, you can book incense-cone making workshop with me (up to 6 people), or you can also learn how to make Egyptian Kyphi. 


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