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Green Acre #204: Bitter(s) Gardens

LittleBird Stephanie’s quest began with a bottle of Seville orange fragrance imported from Spain. Back home the quest led to—where else?—the Internet.

 

BABY WENT to Spain last year, a time, you may recall, when people hopped on planes to places such as Madrid and Montevideo, a time when we worried about leg room and entertained the dismemberment of small children and the guy whose seatback was lying on our knees. Wonderful, wasn’t it?

That was an aside. 

On her return, Baby pulled from her bag a small spray bottle of something called Agua Fresca de Azahar, and with a sly grin opened the bottle top and waved it under my nose.

It was, it was . . .

My knees actually grew weak, even though I was sitting down. The scent! A single note of bitter orange, Sevillian bitter orange to be precise, sweet yet tart. It was like standing in an orange grove in full bloom, or being transported to Madrid on a rainy spring afternoon. One whiff was astonishing, a second irresistible. We passed the bottle back and forth, inebriated by the scent. 

LittleBird Stephanie found two close calls (but no cigar) online. The first (on the right) was rough on the nose, the second turned out to be for cooking.

She got one 1.6-ounce bottle for me and one for herself. ¡Qué lástima! Even with the rare wearing, just a spritz now and then, I am two-thirds down and growing panicky. 

Tragically, Benditaluz, which makes this body splash, as they call it, ships only to the Spanish peninsula and nearby islands. So began a search for something approaching its magic.

Being as this was bought at a pharmacy in Spain, not at a fancy fragrance counter, I figured the best place to hunt for something similar was Amazon. Nada doing, but after several hours of dogged research I had a couple of possibilities, swiftly ordered. 

There was Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water cologne, which may or may not be made in New York—the label is a bit vague,  though it has a delightfully vintage appeal; too bad the bottle is plastic.

I gave myself a little splash. 

Phew! What the hell is that?” My Prince spat. It does have both the top and bottom notes of eau de 8-year-old girl in a dime store in 1959. There, I saved you $12.05 (don’t ask me what the nickel is for).

Much more successful was Agua de Azahar, Orange Flower Water, made somewhere in the US by the Imperial Drug and Spice Corporation. This was two 8-ounce bottles for $7.95. It has the top note of a just-cleaned room in a budget motel, but quickly dries down to a soft orange scent. Quite pleasant, in fact. 

Then I discovered you’re supposed to cook with it, not wear it.  You can add it to salads, chicken and sauces. Middle Eastern dishes rely on it. 

Oh. 

Still, it’s a lovely scent. I’ll put one bottle in the bath and the other in the kitchen.

Which brings up the question: What else might one eat, drink—or wear?

There’s vanilla, which must be daubed on when baking, of course, and the freshness of lemons and limes, which do better in a gin and tonic than they do rubbed on the skin, where the fruit leaves a sticky, pulpy mess. Rum sounds promising but actually doesn’t smell like anything. Cointreau is better, nice orangy hit there, but it quickly dissipates. 

And then I hit on bitters. 

Artisanal bitters come from Crude of Raleigh, North Carolina, which makes small-batch bitters and sodas, and also sells the tools you need to make bitters from your garden.

Pause for brief bitters lesson: Says Wikipedia, “Bitters (plural also bitters) is traditionally an alcoholic preparation flavored with botanical matter . . . aromatic herbs, bark, roots, and/or fruit for their flavor and medicinal properties.”

While that doesn’t sound particularly seductive, bitters do add that little tweak, that edge, an additional delicious dimension. Most often used in cocktails, bitters can also relieve stomach distress. Angostura is probably the best known, but there are smaller makers as well. Like craft beer, turns out there’s craft bitters. 

Baby introduced me to one maker on our visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, a few weeks ago. The young couple across the street operates Crude Small-Batch Bitters, with an “apothecary,” as they consider it, on East Davie Street. They have clever names, such as Bitterless Marriage, a blend of hibiscus, lavender and oak; Sycophant, with orange and fig; and Rizzo, which combines rosemary, grapefruit and peppercorn.

Rizzo is what Baby added to my gin and tonic, a healthy splash, along with cucumber peelings instead of the traditional lime—it was exquisitely refreshing. 

It also turns out to be an exquisitely refreshing body splash, first the grapefruit hits, then the rosemary and then a dry down to peppercorns. Really lovely. I’m sniffing my arm right now.

Turns out, if you have a garden, a rack of spices and herbs, and a bottle of vodka, you can easily turn out your own bitters.  Check out Thekitchn.com for such tempting blends as Lavender Bitters, which combines lavender, orange, vanilla and ginger. 

If you don’t care for the flavor, you can always take a bath in it. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” also knows her way around the kitchen. Trust me on that.

 



2 thoughts on “Green Acre #204: Bitter(s) Gardens

  1. Thank you Kathy! Perhaps watching my 7-month-old grandson eat has inspired me to wear food, although I always seem to be covered in crumbs. Bitters is great in crystal light lemonade, by the way. Tastes like a margarita if you add a wedge of lime and salt the rim of the glass.

  2. Kathy Redd says:

    Oh! (best paragraph ever.)

    I am laughing my way around my kitchen seeing what I can use to create a bitters-y splash. This is on my to-do list…will let you know if I come up with anything good to wear or consume!

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