For generations pomanders were given as a New Year’s gift. When I was young my grandmother and mother made them as Christmas gifts, and I have continued with that tradition, but I have also discovered, whatever the time of year you choose to create a pomander, they are easy to create and are appropriate gifts for anytime of the year. So if you are looking for something to keep the children busy that will result in a unique, handmade holiday gift that will bring the recipient many years of pleasure, read on.
Original pomanders were cases of gold, silver, ivory or china often encrusted with precious jewels and packed with aromatic herbal mixtures whose scents wafted through openings to permeate the air and ward off disease, as it was originally believed, as well as to mask the foul odors arising from unsanitary living conditions. These cases were hung from a chain around the neck or the waist and many were extraordinarily beautiful. Queen Elizabeth I was reported to have warn a girdle with a pomander, and Cardinal Wolsey is said to have carried a hollowed apple or orange filled with spices on his person. Of course not everyone could afford elaborately decorated cases so many folks had pomanders made out of more common materials, which the wearers hoped would be equally effective in keeping the wearer healthy.
My family has always made pomanders using citrus fruits: oranges, lemons, or limes. For a long lasting, fragrant, and beautiful pomander the fruit should be unblemished, nicely shaped, and fairly thick skinned. You will also need whole cloves, powdered orris root, available on-line or through your local health food store, and cinnamon or allspice, depending on your preference. All these spices are quite fragrant lending the pomander its lovely aromatic quality. Dried or powdered orris root smells like violets and has traditionally been used to lend a pleasant scent to freshly laundered linens and to potpourri.
For convenience sake, find a large plate or bowl to empty your whole cloves into. Working with the fruit over the bowl makes the process less messy. You will be working with citrus and will get sticky fingers, so keep some hand wipes nearby. Stud the surface of your chosen fruit evenly and closely with the whole cloves producing a tight “coat of mail” effect over the entire body of the fruit. To prevent your whole cloves from breaking off use a stiff toothpick to first pierce the skin of the fruit, then inset the clove into this pre-punctured hole . Once you start making your pomander it is important to finish the clove embedding process as soon as possible, otherwise the fruit will begin to dry making it difficult to work with.
When the fruit has been completely studded with cloves lay it in a bowl with the pomander spice mixture made up of equal parts orris root and cinnamon or allspice. Each piece of fruit will require about two tablespoons of the spice mixture. Turn the fruit daily in the spice mixture until completely cured. The length of time required to completely cure will depend on the size of the fruit; be patient. The pulp will dry slowly, the juices will seep out mingling with the spices, and the skin will slowly shrink. When the process is completed the pomander will be light, dry, and quite fragrant. A plus to the curing process is as your new holiday gift cures it emits a beautiful, spicy fragrance, a sort of holiday essence aroma for the household.
Tie the completed pomander with a decorative ribbon for hanging in closets or bathrooms, or place in a drawer to keep your linens or delicates smelling sweet. Wherever you decide to use them their fragarence will last for years and can often be recharged simply by placing them back into the spice mixture for several days. What better way to keep the children busy, create lasting memories and wonderful gifts all at the same time. Happy Holidays!