For the last two weeks, whenever I open the cabinets under the stove where I store potatoes and onions, there has been a strong dead mammal reek. When I first noticed it, I assumed it was a potato which went bad. I took out all of the potatoes, sorted out any which had even the slightest sign of trouble, and sat back thinking the problem had been solved.
It hadn’t. Not only was the odor still there, but it seemed to be getting worse. My first thought was that it was a dead mouse. Mice follow the gas pipes which lead to the stove, and that takes them right to the potato/onion bins. I’ve never known them to bother onions, but on rare occasions a potato will show signs of gnawing. Sweet potatoes on the other hand are quickly sampled. And then there was this: the odor seemed to be getting worse. A week later it was as strong as ever. A dead mouse would not stink that long; was it a dead rat?
The vegetable bins are on one side of this space. The other side is occupied by an assortment of culinary potions which has accumulated over the years. This includes things like various vinegars (there were four different rice vinegars when I looked today), what in the bad old days were known as sauces (ten-year old oyster sauce anyone?) and various spirits ( port, sherry, rum, a very old un-opened bottle of Canadian Club, Marsala, vermouth) and the results of various impulse purchases at the import store (mostly Russian fruit syrups and juices – Aronia, black currant, sour cherry).
Convinced that the decomposing corpse of a dead rodent lay hidden among all of those bottles, I took each one out, dusted it off, checked the cap for a good seal, and put them aside. As the last few bottles came out, it was clear that there was no dead rodent. Yet the stench was still there. I got a flashlight and peered down along the gas pipes as far as I could see: there was no sign of a dead anything.
What was going on? If anything, the smell now seemed to be stronger in the kitchen itself rather than under the stove. But where in the world was it coming from? The only thing I had not examined carefully was the onion bin. I took the onions out one by one: they were Vidalia onions, an onion which has a half life of several hours in our kitchen. No, the Vidalias were fine. There was a sweet potato in the same bin – it was light and dry, well on its way to becoming a cork. There was a shallot – nothing bad there.
And there was a plastic bag with garlic. Uh oh, what’s this? The plastic bag had traces – stains - of some now mostly dried brown liquid all over it. When I lifted the bag, there was a nearly dry puddle of the same dark brew. The stench was now reaching the truly disgusting level. Of the three heads of garlic in the bag, two seemed fine except for the bad company they were keeping: the third head was soft and reeking.
Problem solved – well, sort of. Now that the stench is gone, the mice will no doubt return.