milton berle

Spring has fully sprung when the lovely fragrant lilacs are in bloom.
Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
—T.S. Eliot, Portrait of a Lady

While their bloom time is short, they are such a glorious sensory experience that they are thoroughly enjoyed by many. If you don’t believe us, just check your Facebook newsfeed. There is sure to be a photo or two of these glorious flowers. While shades differ from white to yellow to bubblegum pink, the purist among us enjoy, well, the lilac-colored ones. Simple.
Lilac bushes can live for decades. It is said that the more the flowers are pruned the more they will produce the following year – a theory you might try on your children. They have been a very popular choice for home landscapes, probably for a century, if not more. Brides carried them, women decorated churches and homes with them, and during leaner years, they were a source of income.

Lilac hedges grew well in our sandy soil and a man with a cart or truck would arrive during bloom time and cut the lilacs. There are mentions of flowers purchased for sale to Florists in the City. Family lore says that they were sold to make perfume. Unfortunately, despite repeated search attempts, there seems to be no information on who the flowers would have been sold to. While we weren’t able to find the information we’d hoped for, we have decided that, should we be able to drive west of Riverhead come spring, a trip to Highland Lilac seems like a necessary entry on our bucket list!

Perfumery is an interesting and centuries old art, having begun with the Egyptians – you know, because of the whole lack of bathing thing, which has prevailed through about 99% of human history. The delicate nature of the cut flowers would indicate that they couldn’t have gone too far and still arrive in usable condition. Expression is one method of extracting fragrance, but is typically reserved for fruit such as lemon. Perhaps oils would have been extracted through the process of enfleurage, then shipped and sold to a perfume house. We may never know exactly where they went. But we do know that the money earned was put to good use during the lean years.
Never say our forefathers were not resourceful!