Advent traditions: pomander making

Every year since I was about Maya’s age, my mother and I have been making pomanders together during the Advent season. It was a joy to share this tradition with my girls, and is such a part of our Advent rhythm now. Clove-studded and smelling gorgeous, they are simple to make for even little hands, make lovely gifts, and can be enjoyed forever if you use curing spice mixture! The recipe for the curing spices is one from this book (affiliate link, thanks!). You can use oranges, lemons, or even apples for pomanders, but we have had the best luck with thin-skinned citrus like mandarins. They take a couple of weeks to cure if you are giving them as gifts; we usually start making ours on the long Thanksgiving weekend!

To make the pomanders, you will need:

  • fruit to stud with cloves; apples, oranges, lemons, mandarins, tangerines, etc
  • whole cloves (we buy ours from Frontier through our local natural foods co-op. This will make a lot of pomanders! You can use them over several years or share with a friend)
  • skewers (the bamboo ones you would use for kebabs)
  • a large bowl for curing, glazed pottery or glass is best
  • a kitchen scale to weigh out the spices
  • curing spice mixture (recipe below)

Use the skewer to make a small hole in your fruit in which to place a whole clove. Even very small children can do this; when the girls were too small even to poke with the skewer, I would do the skewer part and then they would place the clove in the hole.

You can place the cloves in patterns or (our favorite) cover the fruit with cloves. It can also be pretty to cover all but a strip where you can place a ribbon for hanging. Don’t worry about the juices, it will help the curing mixture to adhere and get into all the spots. You want the cloves to be close together but not so close that the skin splits. Remember that the pomander will shrink in size as it cures. In every batch of whole cloves there are some that have lost their heads; we save these and make pomanders with all “star” cloves.

Blend together the curing spice mixture in a small bowl, measuring by weight.

Sprinkle about half the curing mixture in the large curing bowl, place the studded pomanders on top, and cover with the remaining spice mixture.

Each day or whenever you think of it, rotate and re-cover the pomanders to help them to cure evenly and more quickly. The pomanders will take from a couple of weeks to a month to completely harden, depending on the size of the fruit.

They are a wonderful seasonal alternative to lavender bottles in linen closets, and have the same moth repellent qualities. They are also very pretty out on the table in a small decorative bowl or tray and have a wonderful, warming natural fragrance.

The curing mixture will not spoil, though it may fade in scent as it ages; we can usually do a couple of years with the same mixture before it really needs replacing with fresh spices. In between winters, we store the mixture in a sealed plastic bag with our Christmas decorations. It is always so nice to get the Christmas things out of storage and have the scent of pomanders greet us!

The pomanders will last forever once hardened, we still have some from my own childhood. To refresh the scent, you can dampen the pomander quickly under running water and put it back in the curing mixture. When it goes through the curing process again it will be just like new.

Curing Spice Mixture

This is enough to keep several pomanders curing at once. If you are going to be making them to give as gifts, I recommend you double the recipe. Be sure to use fresh spices for maximum fragrance, and don’t leave out the orrisroot! It assists as a fixative and preservative, and actually has a lovely scent of its own. We get ours locally but Mountain Rose Herbs is an excellent source online.

  • 4 ounces ground cinnamon
  • 2 ounces ground cloves
  • 1/2 ounce ground allspice
  • 1/2 ounce ground nutmeg
  • 1 ounce powdered orrisroot

It just isn’t the holidays without pomanders at our house! Enjoy!

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