As we sat around the Nouroz (Persian new year) dastarkhwan (tablecloth/great spread) in the old Peshawar city, it started to drizzle. The sweet and intoxicating scent of bahar narenj (bitter orange blossoms) filled the courtyard as we sat enjoying haft mewa, a drink made from seven different types of dried fruits and nuts. Refreshing rain and soft cool breeze–a typical scene from any spring season. Yet the night was made memorable and unique by the heady scent that enveloped us.
The following morning was even more beautiful as the air had by then really chilled and was drenched in the fragrance from the narenj blossoms. Breathing the heavenly scented air after all these years was truly a blissful experience. It felt as though after the cold and gloomy months a ray of light was piercing through the soul. Reassuring, soothing and at the same time invigorating and rejuvenating.
The narenj tree, which is native to this part of the world, has been a staple in almost every house with a garden in Peshawar and that too for a good reason. It is a fairly compact tree that stays green throughout the year. In spring it presents stunningly fragrant blossoms in abundance. They scent the air throughout the day with the fragrance being strongest towards the evening. During this season the trees are abuzz with honey bees that have come to gather the heavenly nectar.
It then goes on to produce tarty narenj fruits which begin to ripen by September. The skin of the fruit is used for making murabah, a kind of marmalade, or sliced and dried for decorating and flavouring pulao (dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth). A little pressure to the skin of the ripe fruit will release a bitter, zesty scent which quickly spreads around the room. The juice is extensively used to make sherbet (syrup/drink) and flavour spicy street food or salads. My favourite way of enjoying the ripe fruit is by patting the flesh of the fruit in a salt and red chilli powder mixture and then squeezing the juice over a baked corn.
Bitter oranges are of great utility in the perfume industry as almost every part of it provides useful aromatic material. Depending on the method of extraction, both the orange blossom and neroli essential oils are produced from the flower of the narenj. Neroli has a sweet, green aromatic scent whereas orange blossom is more heady, intense and floral. The peel of the fruit is used to extract bitter orange oil which has a delicate, fresh citrusy aroma. Petitgrain with a sharp, green, slightly woody scent is extracted from the leaves. These oils are widely used as top and heart notes in perfumes and colognes.
The bitter orange trees are in such abundance in Peshawar that the scent of the blossoms lies ingrained in my memory as the scent of back home. A perfume that has beautifully managed to capture the fragrance of the narenj flower is Bottega Veneta’s Knot:
An intricate and airy floral that starts with a pop of citrus. It feels like taking a stroll through a citrus grove on a sunny spring day. Sweet clementine, waxy and green neroli, and sheer lime are layering the air. One would expect all these citrus scents to turn into a sickly sweet concoction but the air here remains refreshing and crisp. The citruses are the opening and heart of this fragrance with a subtle addition of musk and vanilla, just enough to keep things interesting.
If I had a shade card for this fragrance it would go from a soft cream to the slightest of yellows. A fairly simple fragrance easy enough to be worn during the day and elegant enough for the office. It has moderate sillage and longevity.
The official notes have been listed as: clementine, mandarin, lime, neroli, orange blossom, lavender, rose, peony, musk, and tonka bean. However the citruses, vanilla and musk are the only notes my nose can pick up.
Knot was created by perfumer Daniela Andrier and launched in 2014. It is available as 30, 50 and 75ml Eau de Parfum.