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Making pomanders. December 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. One our our family’s Christmas traditions when I was growing up was making pomanders, apples or oranges spiked with whole cloves. They were fun (if a bit messy) to make, smelled heavenly, and kept forever. The scent of cloves and apple or citrus juice reminds me of Christmas to this day. And yes, I still make pomanders. You can, too.

If you don’t happen to own an awl, it’s easiest to make pomanders with apples. That’s because the skins of apples are a lot thinner than the rinds of oranges, so it’s easier and less painful to push in all those cloves. Given the origin of the word “pomander”—Middle English from the French pomme d’ambre, golden apple—you’d think the original pomanders were made from apples, too. Unless those golden apples the French were referring to happened to be oranges. But I digress.

To make pomanders, it’s important to buy small fruit—those bags of small apples in the produce section that look so pitiful beside the huge, individually sold apples, or bags of small oranges or tangerines. (Don’t use clementines, they’re too small, but do buy the thinnest-skinned oranges you can find, since they’re easier to pierce.) That’s because you want the fruit-to-clove ratio to come out pretty even, so the pomander will dry and keep. The cloves preserve the fruit, and if there’s too much flesh for the cloves to reach, it will rot rather than drying. You’ll also, of course, need a big container of whole cloves.

When you’re ready to make the pomanders, all you need is a dinner plate, your fruit and cloves, and some cheerful Christmas music in the background. If you do happen to have an awl, you can use it (or a big nail) to punch the holes in the fruit and save some wear and tear on your fingers. But I’ve never used one, and somehow my hands have survived.

I think the easiest way to make pomanders is to use the cloves to divide the fruit into sections, then fill in the sections with more cloves. From the stem end, punch or push in a line of cloves going clear around the fruit and back up to the stem end to form a circle. Next, make another full circle at a 180-degree angle, so your fruit is now quartered. Make a circle through the middle of each quarter so the fruit is divided in eighths. Finish off by filling in each eighth with cloves. Push each clove completely in, so only its head remains visible.

There is, of course, a trick to this, but fortunately, it’s an easy one. You need to leave space between each clove for the fruit to shrink as it dries, but not so much space that the fruit will rot. I think about a quarter-inch between cloves is ideal. When the fruit is fully dry, the cloves will almost touch. You’ll be amazed how lightweight your dried pomanders are compared to the weight of the fresh fruits.

Once you’ve finished making your pomanders, you can transfer them to a clean plate or paper towel-lined tray and wash the sticky juice off the original plate and your hands. Leave them out to dry, turning them over every few days, and of course enjoying the heavenly aroma as you pass by.

When they’re fully dry, you can add them to your Christmas table, as we do every year, or tie a ribbon around them and hang them on the tree (remember, at that point they’ll weigh little more than a Christmas ball). If you’d like to give them as gifts or use them as stocking stuffers, I’d recommend putting each pomander on a square of shimmery transparent fabric and tying it up with a bow. 

Some people suggest rolling the finished pomanders in ground cinnamon, cloves, or a combination of the two, but I disagree with this, because a) then you have a messy pomander with spice powder constantly falling off on everything and b) they remain marvellously fragrant for decades without additional spice. Leave well alone, say I.

So by all means, add pomanders to your family Christmas tradition. It’s a safe, easy, fun activity for the whole family, and if you have apples and/or oranges left over, you can eat them!

                 ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

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