What’s Cooking Wednesday: What’s That Smell?


"Pie Judging Contest with Dr. Louise Stanley and Mary Lindsay (ARC 5729294) How would these ladies judge our pie smell?


Leave a comment on the bottom of this post telling us your favorite food smell. and you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of Eating with Uncle Sam from the Foundation for the National Archives!

Smells are everywhere. Realtors bake cookies and make coffee to help sell houses. Proud owners of new cars draw in deep breaths of “new car smell.” But did you ever smell an exhibit in a museum?

Visitors to “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” might notice something different about this exhibit. Or at least, their noses might notice.

For the first time, the National Archives has added a smell to an exhibit.

Alice Kamps, the curator of “What’s Cooking,” suggested the idea, and soon exhibition designer Ray Ruskin was tackling the challenge of making this odiferous dream a reality. He faced two problems: size and smell.

The Lawrence O’Brien Gallery, where the exhibit is located, is not very large, and he was concerned that the space would not contain the smell. Would visitors to the Rotunda be sniffing the air as they looked at the Constitution? And there was concern that a smell would permanently linger in the air system of the space even after the exhibit closed.

The other issue Ray faced was the smell of the smell. Since the exhibit has four sections—farm, factory, kitchen, and table—it seemed like four scents would be ideal. As the visitor moved into a new part of the exhibit, there would be a new smell that suggested the theme. However, as he received samples of scents from companies, it became clear that some smells were better left unsniffed.

“We struggled to find something,” Ray said. “If something did remind us of a farm, it wasn’t anything we wanted to subject people to.”

In the end, he went with a single smell throughout the exhibit: apple pie.

“It’s a complex thing—there’s cinnamon burning, undertones of butter,” said Ray. “There’s a lot of notes going on.”

Go and smell it for yourself! The exhibit closes on January 3, 2011, and the smell will be only an olfactory memory.

If you think this pie sounds delicious, you'll love the rest of our historic recipes in "Eating with Uncle Sam." Tell us your favorite food smell in the comments below to be entered in a random drawing. One lucky commenter will receive a complimentary copy of the book from the Foundation for the National Archives.

43 thoughts on “What’s Cooking Wednesday: What’s That Smell?

  1. Homemade marinara sauce. The aromas of the garlic, onions, roasted tomatoes, and fresh herbs fill the entire house. 🙂

  2. I love the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. When you walk into a kitchen during this glorious event you can almost taste the brown sugar and chocolate chips in the air. I think I have just talked myself into baking a batch.

  3. A fire place with hickory wood burning and crackling. Nothing makes a house smell more like a home than a wood burning fireplace on a frosty winter morning! MMMMMM

  4. The absolute best baking smell is fresh bread. It reminds me of my mom’s house and chilly fall days. It’s always amazing how smells and memory are so closely tied.

  5. My favorite food smell can’t be narrowed to just one. I love the smell of cookies baking in the oven and also the smell of cinnamon when added to recipes.

  6. Roasting chile peppers. In New Mexico, where I used to live, in the fall every grocery store and little roadside stand had a large barrel chile roaster. It smells utterly “Autumn” when combined with the pinon fires every has in their beehive fireplaces. No place but the American Southwest smells that way!

  7. I agree with Stella S. Homemade marinara sauce is the best food smell. It makes me think of my mom every time!

  8. The smells of Thanksgiving, with all of my favorite foods cooking! But if a girl has to pick one, it would definitely be pie!

  9. I love the smell of home-made cinnamon rolls in the oven. The mix of the baking yeast and the strong cinnamon. Its the best ever. mmmmmm!

  10. I love the smell of Charles H Baldwin and Sons vanilla. I rarely bake, but I always buy vanilla just to be able to smell it!

  11. My favorite food smells are typically savory … a chicken roasting in the oven … cinnamon rolls … getting hungry just thinking about it!

  12. Favorite smell would be onions sauteing because that is the start to so many fantastic recipes. Matter of fact tonight it is leading to beef stew!

  13. hmmm…only one favorite? oh, dear! first, fresh bread baking, i’d have to say – particularly yeast rolls – and then, the list includes anything with garlic, fried chicken, vanilla anything, and rum/brandy laden fruit cakes my grandmother used to bake in coffee cans during the holidays!

  14. Anything made with teriyaki sauce. I grew up in Hawaii–was there when it became a state–and my mom learned to create a lot of Japanese dishes.

  15. My all time favorite smell was my grandma’s pot roast. She’s been gone for a while now but when I smell a similar roast it transports me back in time to a Sunday afternoon at grandma’s house.

    Also love the smell of a freshly ground and brewed coffee on a chilly fall morning.

  16. We live in a cold climate with snowy winters. My husband walked to and from school, so I liked to have something that smelled good in the oven or on the stove when he came home. Bread baking was a favorite, along with the fragrance of homemade soup simmering on the stove. Husband says these aromas always remind him of me, our children, our house.

  17. Where to begin? There are so many wonderful cooking and baking smells, but if I have to say one, fresh baked bread ranks up at the top.

  18. Since i make great cakes,i would give my vote to a nice fruit cake with strawberry or some of rum scent, for instance…Also the smell of coffee to roast is a dream

  19. I have to agree that the savories are my favorites, Cumin always has me craving chili and tex-mex. Garlic, Oregano and Basil are probably my runner ups.

  20. I love almost any food scent except fish (and company) that has been around just a little too long, but when it is really cold outside a little curry cooking does the trick to pick me up and make me a little happier.

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