Roses and apples are cousins of sorts. They both belong to the Rosaceae group (along, I might add. with all sorts of other fruits like strawberries and quinces and blackberries, whom you wouldn’t figure would hang with apples. But I digress).
The classification goes roughly like this for the pippins: Family Rosaceae, Subfamily Maloideae, and Genus Malus, and then you get either apples or crab-apples. These tend to get classified depending on how big the fruit is. If the fruit is small and tart, it’s chiefly ornamental, and therefore a crab-apple; if the fruit is large and suitable for eating or pie making, then it’s an apple. The surname of these siblings, as it were, is the same no matter what their respective sizes.
So if you think that you’ve often smelled something apple-y in roses or tasted something rosy in apples, you’re right. This came to mind the other day when I ate one of our Gala apples and had the strongest sense of biting into a rose. Not quite synesthesia, but close. The taste reminded me simultaneously of eating rose petals, and of standing under one of the local apple trees in Vermont when the tree was in full bloom. The combined smell was of apples and roses, and completely wonderful, and you would think, highly commercial.
It seems not, though. No one makes anything even remotely like that now. There were apple blossom scents back in the day, certainly, but I can’t recall seeing anything of the sort recently.
Once upon a time there was Helena Rubinstein’s Apple Blossom (1948), which quite illogically smelled of lilac. The scent is remembered affectionately, but isn’t what I’m thinking of when I think of apple blossom perfumes.
Then there’s Demeter’s Apple Blossom, which, like all Demeters, smells like what it references but…in a rather synthetic way.
Other than those two, there’s a DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Bloom, which is supposed to smell very pink. But I suspect (because I haven’t tracked down a bottle at my local Sephora) that Be Delicious Bloom smells like apples and rose alcohols rather than like apple blossoms, and therefore doesn’t fit the bill. Serge Lutens’ Sa Majeste la Rose also has a marked apple note, but not an apple blossom note, if you see the distinction.
The single sure-fire way to smell what I’m talking about is to hang out in an apple orchard in early May. Then you certainly will smell apple blossoms as they are meant to be smelled, and you will quickly detect the difference between chemically engineered aspirations to the note, and the pale pink diaphanous reality. Hold that note in your mind, then visit a rose garden.
In New York the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is an easy trip from Manhattan and has a wonderful display in June (along with a parade of brides having their pictures taken), and if you are more ambitious, there is also the Bronx Botanical Garden. In and around greater Paris, there is the Roserie de la Hay-les-Roses, (aka Roserie du Parc de Bagatelle) and if in Germany, you scoop the jackpot at the Rosarium at Sangerhausen which has a tremendous collection of varieties. While there, smell the roses which best recall their kinship to apples: Eglantine (R. rubiginosa) is apple scented and is an old species variety, the foliage is scented too. There are lots of cultivars of this to smell: Meg Merrilies, Lord Penzance, Amy Robsart, Flora McIvor, or Sparrieshoop and Fritz Nobis, two modern hybrids of eglantines that have fragrant blooms.
Some modern hybrid teas have an apple scent as well. Guy de Maupassant is definitely one to search out and even to grow yourself, if you have the room in your garden. Anyway, you can if you wish, smell the authentic kinship between the rose and the apple in May and June. Maybe just a bite out a Gala will do?
Only don’t take any from witches selling door to door. I hear there’s worse stuff than Alar on those.