I remember seeing strawberry rhubarb pie for the first time, and I couldn't fathom why anyone would want to eat it. There were pieces of CELERY in there. RED CELERY. I hate celery. And mushy strawberries with celery? I huffed indignantly and moved on to my pie of choice (which was probably chocolate or something).
A couple of years later as I was being a Responsible Adult I was perusing the selection of produce at some trendy market and saw huge stalks of celery that were red at the ends. "Rhubarb', the sign informed me. Now, being the Mature Person that I was, I bought some and went home. I took a bite.
What was I thinking? No. SOUR RED CELERY.
A few weeks later I started thinking about it. Lemon is used to make lemon meringue pie. Lime is used to make Key Lime Pie. So why wouldn't a super sour stalk be used to make something sweet and tangy? I sucked it up and tried some raspberry rhubarb jam.
I loved it.
I now make rhubarb cake, eat rhubarb jam, have had rhubarb chicken.....if it has rhubarb, I'll try it. I still, however, hate celery.
Why am I talking about annoying vegetables?
Because people tend to get turned off by something without giving it a chance. And yes, I'm still talking about rhubarb.
Rhubarb is one of those polarizing notes in a perfume. In my case, it took me awhile to realize that that lovely tang I sensed in some fragrances was due to the presence of that weird red stalk. Yuzu-like in pungency yet softer somehow with a hint of dust, rhubarb ties into floral notes and woods equally well. In Comme Des Garcons Series 5: Sherbet, Rhubarb EDT uses the fruit as it is used in most desserts: combined with litchee and smoothed out with a bit of vanilla and orchid, it is a lovely, slightly piquant addition to a warm weather fragrance wardrobe. It won't make your mouth pucker but provides a fresh uplifting scent that stands on its own, branching off from the typical fruity scents of summer. Just as a sorbet acts as a palate cleanser, it always makes me feel like I've cut through and taken a break from the coconut, orange blossom, tropical blooms and colognes that dominate my usual summer choices.
In the Guerlain Olfactifs series, London 04 used rhubarb in a playful way, taking elements from the stereotypically imagined English Tearoom. I love the use of the note here, the bergamot in the scent is true and definitively brings to mind the notion of Earl Grey tea, but whereas most Earl Grey tea scents are fusty and don't smell at all like the real thing, the rhubarb adds a beautiful twist that keeps the bergamot afloat (and I'm sure there is a tea note floating in here somewhere as well, but it may be a genius use of rose). It's almost like it creates the steam that carries the elusive scent of the citrus to your nose. London is discontinued, but is one of my favorites of the series because of the slight 'pink' ness of the scent without becoming overly feminine. It's a fragrance for a lady who lunches.
Byredo's La Tulipe is another rhubarb winner. Tulips don't really have a scent (although I see that an accord could be created to portray the mental association of a tulip), but they do have a persona. Nothing can take your breath away like field after field of blooming tulips exploding with color under a warming spring sun. The use of rhubarb here adds a warmth to a scent that is dominated with cool notes: freesia, cyclamen, the austere dark green of vetiver. It's the first bloom in a still-cool landscape, a promising reminder of warm weather to come.
Today I'm wearing Histoires des Parfums Defile New York (with all the necessary French accents but I'm too lazy to futz with the keyboard). A very limited edition perfume that was distributed for one night in 2010 at Henri Bendel's, this scent shows me once again how rhubarb can be used to masterfully tie a scent together. The notes read a bit like a hot mess: mint, bergamot, grass, waterflowers, rhubarb, pineapple, clove, cinnamon, anise, coffee, chocolate, licorice, vanilla, guaiac, and patchouli. You spray it on and yes, there's mint.....and some citrus......and some floral.......and your nose shuts down for a minute to process it all. Yet something cuts through and wakes it back up, bringing it to its senses. It holds the mint up, it tempers the blooms, it enhances the sweeter aspect of the pineapple, and juxtaposes the coffee and chocolate. It allows reflection on the spice and licorice, and finally escorts the vanilla to tie the whole scent into a cohesive whole. The rhubarb is present the whole time, but not as Rhubarb. You can see the pieces in the pie, but when you taste it it has become something it can never be on its own......yet without it, the pie would be unappetizing. It is evocative of New York......you may not like some things about the city, but it needs all the elements to make it vibrant and full of life. Sometimes it's good to take some time to find the good in something you may not like and gain an appreciation for the role it takes in holding things together. Thanks, you ugly red veggie thing with poisonous leaves. I think I love you.