But Eff thinks it ultimately doesn't matter how the lemon stick got to FlowerMart, or whether it's a thing in other cities. At some point, the lemon stick became a Baltimore thing.

"These things exist in many, many different places. We don't grow lemons," Eff said. "But we have personalized it, we have Baltimorized it."

Purcell of the Women's Civic League agrees that the origin story doesn't matter. "The most important thing is that Baltimore has that as a food icon," she said.

If the lemon stick endures in our minds, it might have something to do with the power of taste and smell.

We might enjoy the sights of FlowerMart, but we don't start to feel something until we've had that first taste. When it comes to creating feelings, vision is a slowpoke.

"Smell, in particular, but taste, too, is much more directly wired to memory and emotion," said Randall Reed, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sensory Biology, which gathers experts in the fields of vision, touch, hearing and chemosensation — the combination of taste and smell.

Reed said he isn't surprised that the lemon stick gets people going.

"The combination of peppermint aroma and citrus aroma is a unique combination that's associated with a unique experience way back in time," he said.

Here's what's happening: "Essentially, it's a tight connection between a particular stimulus — a combination of taste and smell — and past experience, or memory," Reed said. "You link together, if not relive, associations with past experiences — which are memories — with current experiences."

The brain processes smells much more directly than sights, and there's a more a direct connection between smell and emotion.

Reed gives the example of how people experience H&S Bakery in Fells Point. "When we smell bread baking, it elicits a different reaction than if you just saw the H&S sign."

But is there something more to it? We asked a poet to consider the lemon stick. Elizabeth Spires directs the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College. She sent us her take on the lemon stick.

"In the Japanese tea ceremony, cups of bitter green tea are served with overpoweringly sweet confections. The sweetness of the dessert accentuates the bitterness of the tea," Spires said.

"It's almost shocking. The participant tastes each taste as if for the first time.

"The Baltimore lemon stick, served in slightly less formal surroundings, combines the sharp, sweet taste of peppermint with the wonderfully tangy taste of lemon, one of my favorite flavors. The two flavors intertwine. First one taste, then the other. Both are refreshing and mind-cleansing, but utterly different. The mouth and the mind try to sort out the puzzle but can't.

"The lemon stick may not be quite as satisfying as eating an ice cream cone, but on purely visual, tactile, and olfactory levels, it can't be matched."

For years, when the Women's Civic League ran the festival, it was the Arcadia Garden Club that sold the lemon sticks. This year, members of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy will sell them — about a thousand of them each day — for $2 each. The organization's share of the proceeds will fund a series of summertime entertainment events in the park.

Purcell said she'll be buying a lemon stick, but she won't be eating it. It will be for her grandson.

"I've moved on from the lemon and peppermint stick and given it to the next generation so they can have that memory," Purcell said. "It's a food icon that is imprinted at an early age."


If you go

The 2013 FlowerMart is 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Mount Vernon Place and Washington Place (North Charles Street).

On both days, vendors will sell flowers, plants, accessories and arts and crafts. Entertainment, including bands, vocalists and dancing will unfold on two stages.

The main information booth is in front of the Peabody Institute at 1 East Mount Vernon Place. The lemon sticks will be sold at this location, too.

The food court forms a half circle on the west side of the monument. This year's lineup includes crab cakes, pit beef, Asian fare and kettle corn.

The Mayor's Arrival and Opening Ceremony are at noon on Friday on the Clarisse Mechanic Stage, located on the west side of the Washington Monument. The Grand Hat contest is at 2 p.m. on Friday on the Mechanic stage.

On Saturday, the West Park will host a Children's Camp from noon to 5 p.m., where children can make origami animals and Mother's Day cards.

The festival grounds are four blocks east of the light rail Centre Street stop. There is on-street parking near the event. On Friday, most of it is metered; some Saturday parking is free. There is $3 all-day parking at the lot at 15 W. Franklin St.


  • Text DINING to 70701 to sign up for dining news and restaurant reviews text alerts