Monday, March 20, 2006

Nostalgia in the nose!

Its amazing how ones sense of smell and taste are so closely linked to ones memory. A few years ago, The Man of the Place and I took our youngest boy, George to Bordeaux on our family holiday. We had a great time zipping around a very nice part of France and collecting some magnificent wines to take back with us.

While we were there for the two weeks, we stayed in a mobile home/carvan that was located on a site dedicated to families on vacation. It was clean, near to everything we were hoping to see and just isolated enough that we didn't feel hemmed in. We discovered that a bakery nearby made THE best pain de campagne and we made daily trips to this boulangerie to get some. We noticed this place because there was a queue of French people waiting for bread. You know if they're willing to stand in line, it's gotta be good! During this holiday, we had this new soap that we used when showering. It was a fancy bar of green tea soap. It had a wonderful light fresh almost lemony fragrance and it was so nice to use after a day of being at the beach and we were feeling salty, sandy and overdone by the sun and wind. Months later, when we adults were back at the daily grind and George was at school, I unearthed a bottle of green tea bubble bath, made by the same manufacturers of the soap. I had George close his eyes and take a sniff. While his eyes were closed, I asked him, "What does that remind you of?" He immediately said "France!" The same thing sprang to my mind too. As soon as I took a whiff, I was transported to a caravan in Bordeaux, tucked away under pine trees.

Earlier this winter, I had gone to a garden centre to get some bird seed or fish food (this garden centre sells tropical fish too). As I was walking in to the main building, I noticed some small plants in pots near the door. They were low, alpine type plants with shiney green leaves and bright red berries. I made a double take. It was wintergreen, I was sure of it! I pinched a berry off one of the plants just to make certain. As I crushed it the very familiar wintergreen scent hit my nose. As I ate the berry, I wasn't a grown woman anymore. I was a kid on a camping holiday with my family on Madeline Island.

Madeline Island is one of the Wisconsin Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. We used to go there on camping holidays. It was near enough to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Elcho so that they got a lunchtime visit as we drove north.

Going there was the first time I had ever been on a ferry. It was SO exciting. The island, like a great deal of that part of Northern Wisconsin has thin, sandy, slightly acid soil. Nice for pine trees, but many hardwoods struggle up there. Maple trees do okay and so do birch trees. I think birch trees are classified as a soft wood. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

In any case, Madeline Island was great in the summer for berries. There are wild strawberries, wild blueberries and raspberries. We picked bowls full of blueberries. The wild ones are so small it takes ages to get an amount that is enough for putting in a recipe (pancakes!!)

Wild blueberries!

The blueberries used to grow just in from the big beach on Madeline Island underneath the pine trees and before it started to get swampy further in. Alongside the blueberries, wintergreen berries also grew. The bright red berries had white insides like mini apples. They tasted like unsweetened versions of pink wintergreen lozenges. I don't know of any recipe where wintergreen is used. I do know it is used in Wint-o-green Lifesavers, the best flavour of all the Lifesavers. We used to do the trick of getting a fresh tube of Wint-o-green Lifesavers, turn out the lights and crunch them in the dark to see the tiny blue sparks. You take your pleasures as you find them in the north.

This is wintergreen.

So, I bought two little wintergreen plants at the garden centre. I gleefully told my family about it but really, they couldn't get very excited about two plain little green plants. The soil here at Whitelees is far from sandy, but it is certainly acid. Lets hope I can get the little guys to flourish. The cranberry plant was a disaster a few years ago. I've got just the place for these little emigrant plants.

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