Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Indigo Drying on the Metal Kitchen Roof.

This is the 19th year I have dried indigo on this dangerous roof. It has proven to be the best way. Fast and efficient. The freshly dried warm indigo has a smell like nothing else. Last year a friend mentioned that the drying indigo had a unique unmistakable smell. I agreed with a flubbed wisecrack....'I love the smell of drying indigo in the smells like....victory.' It was a weak take on Kilgore's famous lines in Apocalypse Now..."I love the smell of napalm in the morning...smells like...victory."

I was up at the crack of dawn and at the indigo field harvesting my first cut this year. The faster it dries the better. The weather looks like it will change on Saturday so this might be the last chance. I've had semi-dried leaves on electric carpets and fans and heaters blazing on hot muggy days trying to salvage an ill-timed harvest in the past. The roof never lets me down except the climb up there and the scorching heat are tough.Today was dry and breezy and in the mid 30s. Perfect for an indigo harvest. Half of the leaves were stripped off the stems so that the stems can be boiled and used for a silver grey regular vegetable dye. The other half was dried on the kitchen roof to be later fermented into ammonia strong indigo paste.

The smell triggered something. I don't have the time to be absorbed by melancholic and meaningful memories like Proust, but I had a flash forward to what might happen years from now if I stumbled upon some drying indigo leaves. It could trigger and avalanche of memories of indigo processing. Here is the most indulgent thing I've asked of my blog readers...

Il y avait déjà bien des années que, de Combray, tout ce qui n’était pas le théâtre et le drame de mon coucher n’existait plus pour moi, quand un jour d’hiver, comme je rentrais à la maison, ma mère, voyant que j’avais froid, me proposa de me faire prendre, contre mon habitude, un peu de thé. Je refusai d’abord et, je ne sais pourquoi, me ravisai. Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblaient avoir été moulées dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause.

And in case you plowing through that is a headache..

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?


  1. proust and indigo. had never made that connection, but it works for me. my newly found are killing me!!

  2. Dear Neki san:
    It was a bit of a stretch to say the least. I asked two friends who dropped by today to bury their noses in the dried indigo and tell me what they smelled. One said," Drying Persian carpet", the other thought it smelled like "a wheat or rye field before harvest".
    I think it smells like a deeply sun tanned arm in mid-July before there is any hint of school starting back up in the air.

  3. thank you bryan for the description of the scent of indigo. I was wondering about it.

  4. lovely images, scent brings so many memories, so much stored away we would have forgotten, but for scent. a favorite book: nabhan's *the desert smells like rain*.

  5. Hi Bryan,
    How do you process your dried indigo leaves?
    Susanne in Maine, USA

  6. Hi Susanne.
    I dry them and in the middle of winter I wet them and wrap them in a straw bag. Then I place the straw bag on a bed of leaves in a dry place. I put some heavy stones on top to keep the oxygen out. I open it up every few weeks and mix it. In three months it is fermented and smelling of ammonia. Then I stop the fermentation with some slaked lime. There are several variations on this process. Try to get a copy of Dorothy Millers; Indigo from Seed to Dye pot. It has everything in it. Best of luck.