What Makes Fall Smell So Swell?

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

Walking into a bakery this week, I sniffed the allspicy, gingery splendiferousness of pumpkin pie. Okay, so my sniffer has been pumpkin-programmed ever since I wrote about the great pumpkin shortage last week. (I’d like to say I walked into *my kitchen* and smelled the pie, but alas I haven’t yet mustered the courage to roast and mash and bake with a whole pumpkin…but thanks for all the great tips…will keep you posted!)

That spicy pie smell, I realized, is just one of the reasons I’m so invigorated this time of year…

Every season has its matching scents (Christmas trees and gingerbread in winter, suntan lotion and cut grass in summer, dirt and soap in spring). But me, I’m a Fall Girl. And I say that *this* is the best-smelling time of the year.

Exactly why, I’m not sure. Is there a quintessential scent to fall? Something particular in the crisp autumn air (or inside a cozy house after a day raking leaves) that so fills me with gladness? Is it…

* Those pumpkiny-cranberry-walnutty fall baking smells? (See what’s on my mind!)

* Wet leaves? The distinctive, earthy mustiness is even better than…

Fall Leaves

…the smell of dry leaves (which have more ear-pleasing crunch than nose-happy sniffability).

What fall smells like is no small question! Smells lodge deep in the mind’s memory system and in fact are linked to the parts of the brain where emotions are stored. That’s why they’re so evocative for us – and so longlasting. One whiff of your late grandmother’s perfume on a stranger in a crowded mall and you swear you could turn around and see her standing there.

Here’s more of my what’s-the-best-autumn smell countdown. Which do you think captures the season best?

* Pinecone potpourri? Here’s a bowl set out on a family room table; I fill it with dried goodies and sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top, a sort of homemade potpourri.

Bowl of Potpourri

* Woodsmoke curling from a chimney down the block? A crackling fire is more of a wintery smell, I guess. But fall is when people with fireplaces get stoking around here, and I love to pass the smoke-in-the-air houses on a chilly evening’s walk.

* A bowl of fresh apples? Growing up in Michigan, I’m partial to the MacIntosh I used to pick. This foto is a mix of North Carolina Mountaineer, Macoun, and Empire, I think. But yesterday I bit a sweet, crisp Sierra Beauty for the first time that made me make those “ooh mmm mmm ” sounds with every bite (swoons once reserved for richer goodies like pumpkin cheesecake…or chocolate!).

Bowl of Apples

* Hay bales? No, I don’t have them lying around my backyard. But they’re everywhere at farmers’ markets and pumpkin patches, a kind of fallish décor that’s dry and sweet and well, fallish!

* Crayons? I read somewhere that this is one of the most enduring scents – a little late for back-to-school now in this last month of autumn, but I thought I’d toss it in as “fallish” anyway. Sniffing Crayolas is also supposed to stimulate creativity…good excuse to run out and buy a 64-count box, just for you! (I still have a vintage box I bought before they changed all the names of the colors to oddities like Bear Hug and Super Happy –brown and yellow, respectively, which were introduced for the 50th anniversary celebration of the 64-count box last year.)

What do you think? Is your favorite fall scent something else? (Bright orange marigolds? Dew-damp wool blankets? Chicken soup?) I bet geography plays a role, too – in New York City, it’s roasting chestnuts on the sidewalks!

Or maybe you care to challenge me on my autumn-smells-best assertion. Go ahead, make your case! Cast your vote! I’m ready to go nose to nose!

Leave a comment 0 Comments

  1. I challenge not. All that you have written would be on my list. But I would add the fresh smell that comes in on my dog or grandchildren after running around in the crisp air. Odd I know but it is a smell I remember.

  2. Dorothy says:

    One of my "favorite" smells of fall is the smell of the dirt after the sugar beets or potatoes are harvested. Or the last hay crop is in. Or the garden is cleaned off for the year.
    Farm smells. I live in a farming community and these are the smells that make me smile.

  3. sunshine says:

    Wool…..I love the smell of wool (and a bit of cedar oil to keep the pesky moths away) as I unpack our blankets, shirts, pants, socks and sweaters. Winter is upon us up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. After a little airing of their packed away arms, legs, toes and folds, I can’t wait to make up the beds in their winter garb. None of that light downy stuff for us. Then, we’re ready to snuggle under the weight of those warm wooly blankets with a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate to hold and inhale for just a moment and a thick hardcover book. Ahhhhhhh……life is good.

  4. Judy says:

    My favorite "Outdoor"fall smell is woodsmoke from someone’s fireplace and wet leaves, when you rake them and shuffle them into a pile. Then my favorite "Indoor"fall smell is Cinnamon anything. I love the spicey smell of fall thru Christmas! I can close my eyes and smell it now! Yum!!

  5. I loved your article. There are so many great smells this time of year. Personally the smell of the leaves on the ground is wonderful and brings back warm memories of walking to school in the fall leaves. A delicious pot of simmering soup and a crackling fire in the fireplace are also favorite smells. This is the perfect time of year for little sparkling candles that have seasonal pumpkin fragrance. Of course the Thanksgiving turkey and the mellow smell of pumpkin pie are favorites. It is a deliously fragrant time of year. Thank YOU for sharing.

  6. Marilyn Collins says:

    Fall is my favorite time of the year. I agree about all the delicious smells and Macintosh apples. Nothing is so sweet, and juicy as a Macintosh. As a child I loved them as a jelly apple, now these days,it is hard to find a plain jelly apple. I have enjoyed your comments concerning the season of Autumn.
    Marilyn

  7. Meg says:

    Mulled cider–the smell of cider and spice as they are being warmed on the gas stove is wonderful. Oh, and my mom’s Oatmeal Raisen cookies, fresh out of the oven–Yum!

  8. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Oh the cider and the fresh oatmeal cookies just got to me! Good adds!

  9. carol branum says:

    hi,I always did say perm solution was just like manure,it smelt like money,I do love cinnimon and spice and try to smell my home up with it all over in the fall I usually purchase a cinnimon broom from the local dollor store also,with other fall smells.I had daddy saw me up a bunch of cedar limbs and I tied them up with sage green netting and ribbon to hang in the closet,we had a wonderful day,and I loved the smell of fresh cut hay and I love new baled hay.A real farmgirl,carol branum,lamar mo.

  10. donna rhineberger says:

    I grew up in Pennsylvania, am now in Colorado. I loved hearing the tree frogs in Spring and Summer. When young with a family I grew sugar pumpkins and made pies, cookies and bread from them. Sooo good.
    Here in Colorado I love the smell of the ponderosa pines. I also can smell the snow coming. So Boulder, so Colorado!

  11. Patty says:

    I raise angora goats and I love the smell of freshly shorn mohair. It ushers in the season of Spring and Fall for us. It is so warm, shiny and has an unmistakable smell of lanolin. It smells GREAT!!

  12. Charlene says:

    Hey girls I’m there. Fall is my favorite time of year also.I love all the same smells . It really is the best smelling time of the year!!

  13. MichiganKimberly says:

    My Michigan fall smell living in the "thumb" surronded by farms and Orchards I love the smell of mug of hot cider on a cool crisp fall day or hot chocolate. I have fall sounds too, the sounds of the tractors havesting sugar beets, or navy beans or corn makes one know it is fall as they rush to get it all harvested. Seeing the deer coats go from a reddish brown to the brown they are in the winter…and dodging them when they run out in front of your car…makes one heart beat real fast…lol

  14. Denise says:

    Dare I say it but I must – your favourite colour is orange – a colour for me that is associated with fall or autumn as we call it here in all its variations – as well as rich deep reds, greens, yellow, I could continue. The colours the fresh crisp air, shorter days – all good for curling up with a good book hot chocolate and rug, and/or fire if you’re lucky enough to have one. Possibly part of the reason also that you love this time of year. My favourite seasons are fall and spring – cool mornings and nights and beautiful days with lots of colour and smells. We don’t get much of a winter here – certainly no snow only the occasional frost unfortuately but still I can dream and one day have a white christmas.

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