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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.

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Comment from Peggy Ann Brown
Time November 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Love the idea of the pecan topping — combines my 2 favorite Thanksgiving pies!

Comment from Alexis
Time November 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Favorite smell: APPLE CINNAMON PIE!!!!!!!!!

Comment from Stella S.
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm

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

Comment from Amy Burdge
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm

My favorite smells are savory. There are few better than those of a roasting chicken.

Comment from Eileen Bray
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Favorite smells: pumpkin pie, baking bread, mom’s turkey dressing…anything “Thanksgiving!”

Comment from Jacqueline Bartek
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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.

Comment from Sheila Fisher
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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

Comment from Erin O.
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm

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.

Comment from Rhonda Willard
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm

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.

Comment from Michelle Z.
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm

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!

Comment from Debbie McD
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Onions and garlic starting any meal over a camp fire, and baking bread any ol’ place. YUM!

Comment from Jamie P.
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm

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

Comment from Sharon G
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm

My favorite food smell is bacon frying. It smells like morning – both lazy and filled with possibilties.

Comment from Jill Nagy Anderson
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

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

Comment from Gail Waisanen
Time November 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Bread baking. Nothing else comes close.

Comment from H. Browning
Time November 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm

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!

Comment from Hannah Rosen
Time November 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

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!

Comment from L Jones
Time November 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm

The smell of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon baking during the holidays.

Comment from Gloria Bartosik
Time November 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

My favorite is Roast Turkey with all the trimmings!

Comment from Cyndy
Time November 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Anything cooked by my Italian grandmother!

Comment from barbara_y
Time November 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Baking bread. Driving in the evening, car windows down, you catch that smell and want to follow it home.

Comment from Kimberly Henricks-Friedhoff
Time November 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

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

Comment from Holly Chamberlain
Time November 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

My mom’s applesauce cake, redolent with cinnamon and cloves.

Comment from Cathy Harms
Time November 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm

My favorite smell in the kitchen is fresh bread baking.

Comment from DLJWBJ
Time November 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

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!

Comment from Dianne
Time November 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I love the smell of fresh coffee in the morning, right before the first sip that wakes you up!

Comment from jenean c gilstrap
Time November 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

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!

Comment from Catherine Shreve
Time November 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm

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.

Comment from Anna
Time November 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm

The smell of chocolate and coffee!

Comment from Darin
Time November 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm

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.

Comment from Linda
Time November 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Smell of cinnamon rolls baking on a cold morning with hot chocolate

Comment from Anne Gometz
Time November 3, 2011 at 12:24 am

Swedish style cardamom apple pie. And fruit soup!

Comment from Betsy V
Time November 3, 2011 at 3:48 am

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.

Comment from Scott
Time November 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

Pine trees.

Comment from J Haack
Time November 3, 2011 at 8:54 am

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.

Comment from Judith Richards Shubert
Time November 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Love the smell of banana nut bread, in and out of the oven.

Comment from Michelle
Time November 4, 2011 at 6:49 am

During this time of year, I long for the smell of French-Canadian stuffing.

Comment from Cindy Ryding
Time November 4, 2011 at 9:01 am

I love the smells that Fall baking brings – pumpkin bread, apple pie, and homemade bread!

Comment from Slavica
Time November 4, 2011 at 11:12 am

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

Comment from April
Time November 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm

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.

Comment from DeAnn
Time November 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm

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.

Comment from becky
Time January 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm

my favorite smell is Thanksgiving dinner in the oven waiting for family to arrive AWESOME!!!!!