Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Pomander Debacle

I don't even remember how it started, now.

It was shortly before Thanksgiving. I know Sonya and I were sitting at Ye Olde Beading Table, chatting. There might have been a customer in the store.

I don't remember what we were talking about, but suddenly a distant childhood memory popped into my head: those delicious smelling, gorgeous holiday pomanders - those oranges covered in cloves, and decorative ribbons. I remember bowls of them throughout the house between Thanksgiving and Christmas, filling the house with spicy holiday goodness. So did she - and I thought: I should make some of those.

 Famous last words.

Knowing nothing about making them, I forgot about them for a couple of weeks, and then remembered again right as I was preparing for the big monthly trek to the grocery store. I scribbled "oranges" and "cloves" on my list, and searched the grocery store for them once I got there (2 sections of the grocery store I never visit: Fresh Produce, and Baking Supplies. Should have seen the foreshadowing right then!).

Once home, I searched the internet for instructions - although, I really thought that all I had to do was stick the cloves in the oranges, and, as they say on Etsy: "Wallah!"

Good thing I checked. Turns out you need a tad more than that - like cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered cloves, and Orris root. (???). I had some 10 year old (but unopened!) cinnamon and nutmeg in the pantry, but no powdered clove. And certainly no Orris root. Which, as it turns out, is a natural preservative. [Note to self: check recipes before going to grocery store.]

Know what else you need? Time - according to the directions (and believe me, I read about 5 different recipes for these pomanders), it takes 3 to 6, or more, weeks for the pomanders to cure and be ready for use. Ooops - obviously, these wouldn't be ready for the holidays, unless I squeaked under the wire and they took exactly 3 weeks, and even then, the bead shop would already be closed for Christmas (!) - but we'd be enjoying and savoring them right on into bleak January and February. It's all good, I told myself, as I got out a huge knitting needle, and started stabbing my oranges, filling their oozing wounds with whole cloves.

I got all the cloves placed, and had 10 plump oranges, covered with beautiful patterns in whole cloves. I didn't want to climb into the attic and look for ribbon, so I decided this was good enough!

The next step called for coating the oranges in the spices, and then placing them in a brown paper bag and into a cool, dark space. Know what I don't have at the house? Paper bags. Who uses paper bags nowadays? But I kept looking, and eventually found a nice, sturdy large paper shopping bag from some long-ago shopping trip, coated my oranges in my spice mixture (minus the powdered cloves and the orris root), and stuffed the bag in the pantry.

And proceeded to worry for 2 days about my oranges - since they didn't have any orris root preservative. The instructions said to shake the bag daily to recoat the oranges, and to check them, and remove any that show mold. Mold?! - wait .... what?

2 days later I went to the health food store in Augusta, and found orris root. That night, I added the powdered orris root to the mix, and also separated the 10 oranges into their own individual small paper bags, appropriated from the bead shop. And for the next 3 weeks, I let them do their thing. For the first few days, I checked them daily. Then it slipped to every other day, and then every 3-4 days. Let's face it: waiting for an orange to dehydrate is kind of like watching grass grow.

orris root

A couple of days ago, I decided to shake all the bags again, and check the progress. Oops.

bags of oranges, cloves, and spices

Here's what I found:

1 moldy orange

1 moldy orange and 1 non-moldy orange

7 moldy oranges, 3 unscathed (so far) oranges

Of my 10 original oranges, 7 have developed a bad case of mold, and 3 are left, and these three are not even close to dehydrated yet -

So I added more orris root to the remaining 3, and put them back into the pantry for more curing.

I guess we'll see how this goes -- maybe I'll have some Easter pomanders.


Christine Altmiller said...

this made me laugh so hard! it is absolutely the way i go about things. i cannot wait to hear if the 3 make it out dehydrated and unmoldy.

BackstoryBeads said...

Your post brings back great memories. My Mom used to make these in the summer and hang them in our closets in the fall. (I think they were thought to guard against moths - and they sure smelled better than cedar!)I'm rooting for the remaining 3! said...

At one point I thought you were breaking into the 12 days of christmas song - 3 moldy oranges ,2 orris root and one in a paaaaaper bag. So funny
I too thought if I remember just sticking cloves into the oranges to make long ago - never heard of orris root or using other spices

dreaminofbeads / SAS Jewelry Designs said...

wow who would have thought it was such a process....Miss you. Have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy your pj days!

Maneki said...

Ah, those craft disasters. One gets and idea, wants to try something new or revive something from childhood -- and it always looks fab in your mind. But not always in the end. Lex CraftFail. *lol*

A little late to say this now, but I think it would've been better to opt for the simpler method of just hanging up fresh clover-encrusted oranges instead. When we used to make those as kids, usually in preschool and school. We just pushed cloves into the orange and wrapped it in red ribbon (using cloves to keep it in place) so it could be hung in the window. As you say, no real pomanders, but if only using it for christmas decoration you don't need to complicate it. Keep it as long as it lasts and then chuck it on the compost.

As for real pomanders I'd though a dry and warm place would be better than a cool one, as mentioned in the instructions, so it'd dry faster before the mould could set it. Or maybe it was just bad luck and the oranges had more mould spores than usual or they were slightly bruised, which makes them turn bad much faster.